Hepatitis C and Baby Boomers: Why people born between 1945 and 1965 should get tested

blood vials

Are you or is someone you love a Baby Boomer? Then here’s some important information to know: All people born between 1945 and 1965 (the generation commonly referred to as the Baby Boom) are five times more likely to have the Hepatitis C than adults of other generations. Three out of four Baby Boomers have the disease. But one huge problem with Hepatitis C — aside from its potential dangers — is that many people don’t even realize that they are infected with it. Many people live with Hepatitis C for decades without symptoms or feeling sick. Despite this, Hepatitis C can eventually lead to deadly conditions such as liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus. Most people who get infected develop a chronic, long-term infection. Over time, chronic Hepatitis C can cause serious health problems. In fact, Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and the leading cause of liver transplants.

Why do so many Baby Boomers have Hepatitis C?

The reason that people born from 1945 through 1965 have high rates of Hepatitis C is not completely understood. Most baby boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1960s through the 1980s, when transmission of hepatitis C was at its highest.

Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Baby boomers could have gotten infected from medical equipment or procedures before universal precautions and infection control procedures were adopted. Others could have gotten infected from contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening virtually eliminated the virus from the blood supply by 1992. Sharing needles or equipment used to prepare or inject drugs, even if only once in the past, could spread Hepatitis C. Still, in the end, many people do not know nor will ever know how or when they got infected.

Getting tested for Hepatitis C

Especially since the disease can be so “silent” — producing no symptoms for decades — it’s extremely important that all Baby Boomers be tested for Hepatitis C, so that those who are infected can be treated and cured. Hepatitis is a curable disease, if treatment is sought out and received. But the only way to know if you have Hepatitis C is to get tested.

A blood test, called a “Hepatitis C antibody test,” can tell if a person has ever been infected with the Hepatitis C virus. This test looks for antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus within the body. Antibodies are chemicals released into the bloodstream when someone gets infected by a virus.

When getting tested for Hepatitis C, ask when and how test results will be shared. There are two possible antibody test results:

Non-reactive or negative means that a person does not have Hepatitis C. However, if a person has been recently exposed to the Hepatitis C virus, he or she will need to be tested again.

Reactive or a positive means that Hepatitis C antibodies were found in the blood and a person has been infected with the Hepatitis C virus at some point in time. A reactive antibody test does not necessarily mean a person has Hepatitis C. Once someone has been infected, he or she will always have antibodies in his or her blood. This is true if even if the person’s immune system has gotten rid of the Hepatitis C virus on its own, without any medical intervention.

A reactive antibody test requires an additional, follow-up test to determine if a person is currently infected with Hepatitis C.

For more information

To be tested for Hepatitis C, visit your doctor or your medical practitioner. For more information about Hepatitis C, visit www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis.

 

Information courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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