The CDC Urges Baby Boomers to Be Tested for Hepatitis C
May Is Hepatitis Awareness Month and May 19 Is National Hepatitis Testing Day
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is most often caused by a virus. In the U.S., the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are three separate diseases, each caused by a different virus and spread in different ways. Learn about the three types of hepatitis here.
A vaccine is available for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, but at present, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. It can be detected by a simple test.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that certain people be tested for Hepatitis C:
- Anyone who was born from 1945 – 1965.
- Anyone who has shared needles, syringes or other equipment to inject drugs.
- Anyone who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992.
- Anyone who received blood products for clotting problems made before 1987.
- Anyone who has been exposed to the blood of a person with Hepatitis C.
- Anyone born to a mother who has Hepatitis C.
Why Are Baby Boomers at Higher Risk?
You may have read about efforts to fight Hepatitis C in the prison population and among drug addicts—but baby boomers may be surprised to know that merely being born between 1945 – 1965 puts them in the highest at-risk category! According to the CDC, up to three-fourths of people with Hepatitis C are baby boomers, though the reason for this isn't entirely clear. Some cases resulted from blood transfusions in the years before 1992, when widespread screening went into place. Other boomers may have become infected when they injected drugs in their younger years, even only once. It is even possible that piercings and tattoos spread the virus if equipment wasn't properly sanitized. But the CDC says that many baby boomers cannot account for how or when they were infected.
It's important for baby boomers and anyone else with any of the risk factors above to be tested. People who are infected can live for years without any noticeable symptoms, even as the disease is causing life-threatening liver damage, cirrhosis or liver cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health, today Hepatitis C is the most common reason that a person needs a liver transplant. Early detection allows doctors to most effectively manage and treat the disease, and treatments continue to improve from year to year.
Visit the CDC’s Hepatitis Testing Day website to find a test location. Or ask your doctor about being tested. Medicare covers a screening test if performed by an eligible Medicare provider for anyone considered to be at high risk (including baby boomers, people with current or past history of illicit injection drug use, and those who received a blood transfusion prior to 1992). Your private insurance also may cover the test.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Talk to your healthcare provider about the Hepatitis C test and other recommended screenings.
Photo: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.