Baby Boomers Beware!

1 in 3 are at risk for Hep-C
Story by Leslie Reschley
Were you born between 1945 and 1965? If so, take note. An asymptomatic illness may be lurking in your body. In fact, 1 in 30 “Baby Boomers” are positive for this illness translating to approximately 75 million Americans. What is this disease you ask? It is the Hepatitis C virus.

Hepatitis C is an often asymptomatic liver disease caused but a virus named Hepatitis C. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Thus far, there are 3 types of Hepatitis viruses-A, B and C. Because of the lack of symptoms associated with Hepatitis C and the estimated number of American adults who unknowingly have the disease, this article will focus on Hepatitis C or Hep C as it is commonly called.
Acute symptoms of Hepatitis C typically occur from 1-3 months after exposure and last from 2 weeks to 3 months. These symptoms may be fatigue, fever, muscle aches, nausea and/or jaundice. In fact, many people have been exposed to the Hep C virus and their immune system was able to clear the disease. However, approximately 55-85% of the people exposed go on to develop a chronic disease of infection but it is unknown to them as they have no symptoms! In fact, years can pass as the liver becomes increasingly damaged moving through cirrhosis or scarring to liver cancer and finally liver failure and death. Hepatitis C is not routinely tested on physical exams.
How does Hep C occur? It is a blood borne disease meaning this virus is transmitted through blood exposure. It is not spread through food, water, casual contact or even the sharing of food utensils or drinking from the same container as an infected person. It is most commonly found in those who received blood transfusions before 1992, received transfusions of clotting factors (a blood product) before 1987, have a piercing or tattoo with a contaminated instrument, injected or inhaled illegal drugs or were a health care worker exposed to the blood through a needle stick etc.
Initially attributed to the drug use scene and the sharing of dirty needles for injection, this disease has been stigmatized. However, recent studies show though that there is no reason for this stigma. In fact, some theorize that the disease began as far back as World War II with blood transfusions and injections that occurred with unsafe medical practices. Thus, many people born in the range of 1945-1965 may have received a blood product that was tainted with Hepatitis C as the virus was not even looked for in the blood products. In addition, medical syringes may have been reused or improperly sterilized leading to further contamination to others.
Although not routinely screened for as a part of a normal medical physical, there is currently a movement across the USA for people especially of the “Baby Boomer” age group to obtain a test to check for presence of the virus. This is done through a blood specimen. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control recommends testing in the age group born between 1945-1965 as they are FIVE TIMES more likely to be infected by the Hep C virus. Further studies may be needed if the test is positive to determine if liver inflammation (cirrhosis) or cancer is present. Because it is a disease that has no symptoms until it is advanced, testing is encouraged even if there are no symptoms. Medical science has recently developed anti-viral medications with the goal of treatment a cure for the disease. In fact, it is estimated that 95% of the people treated can achieve a cure. Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B currently have vaccines for prevention but as of yet, there is no approved Hepatitis C vaccine.
Please contact your medical professional if you may be at risk for Hepatitis C.
Early detection through a simple blood test may save your life and prevent complications!

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