If you are a baby boomer, meaning you were born between 1945 and 1965, you are at a higher risk of being affected by hepatitis C. This liver disease, which can either present as an acute infection or a chronic one, can affect you for life. Hepatitis C is much more prevalent amongst the baby boomer population than any other, and the age group also shows a statistically low propensity to get tested for it. May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, so use this opportunity to educate yourself on this disease and how it can be treated.
What Is Hepatitis C?
While currently most heavily associated with injectable drug usage, hepatitis C is transmitted through contaminated blood and bodily fluids, also including being passed on from mother to baby at birth. Hepatitis C affects your liver, causing it to become inflamed. The disease presents in two stages, acute and chronic, and might go undiagnosed in its initial stages since it doesn’t always show symptoms. Some patients may pass the virus before it becomes chronic, although those numbers range anywhere from 14 to 50 percent of affected patients. If the disease moves on to the chronic stage, you can continue to go symptom-free for years, but once the damage to your liver has become great enough, symptoms may start to appear. These symptoms can include bleeding or bruising easily, fatigue, jaundice, swelling in your legs, poor appetite and weight loss, or discolored urine or bowel movements.
Why Are Baby Boomers Affected More Than Other Age Groups?
Baby boomers make up 75 percent of patients who are diagnosed with hepatitis C. In addition to this high number of hepatitis C patients, the CDC reports that liver cancer death rates have been going up steadily. Although the spread of hepatitis C is more closely tied to drug usage now, some attribute this high population of hepatitis C in baby boomers to unsafe practices during the 1940s through the 1960s, including lack of proper screening processes on blood and organ donations
Should I Get Tested?
Hepatitis C testing is pretty simple and can be done with a blood test. Certain people should be tested for hepatitis C, while others aren’t as crucial. If you fall into a low-risk age group or don’t engage in risky activity, you might not need to worry about getting tested. Testing is recommended for anyone who is a current or past drug user and used needles, if you have or have had a partner who has the disease, have gone through a blood filtering process for your kidneys, received an organ transplant or blood transfusion from a donor before July 1992, received a clotting factor for a blood disorder prior to 1987, are a healthcare worker who may have been exposed, or if you have HIV. If you’re not sure how you fall into these risk categories, the Centers For Disease Control has a quick risk assessment quiz available.
If you do have hepatitis C, there is a treatment plan available for patients who qualify. These include medications to both manage your symptoms and help reduce the damage done to your liver. In extreme cases, you may have to have a liver transplant if the disease has reached a late stage.
If you are a baby boomer or fall into one of the other high-risk categories for hepatitis C, make an appointment at Carolina Digestive Health Associates for more info and testing as needed.