Hepatitis C has popped up in the news over the years, but mainly when it’s announced that a celebrity has contracted the disease. From actress Pamela Anderson to rocker Steven Tyler, celebrities have been able to call attention to this mysterious disease, which has more than doubled in prevalence since 2005.
Even more shocking? The statistics about baby boomers and Hep C. The Centers for Disease Control reports that “of the estimated 3.2 million people chronically infected with hepatitis C in the U.S., approximately 75% were born during 1945-1965, or are baby boomers.”
Baby Boomers and Hep C
Before we talk about the prevalence of baby boomers being diagnosed with Hepatits C, we first need to understand more about this often misconstrued disease. So here are the facts:
- Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver.
- It can be either acute, meaning it goes away, or chronic. There is currently no vaccination for this disease.
- There are other types of Hepatitis, including A, B, D and E, although C is thought to be the most serious in terms of consequences to your health.
- Between 130-150 million people worldwide are living with Hepatitis C.
- Between 50-90% of people using antiviral treatment get better, and between 15-45% of people who do not seek treatment will get better within 6 months.
The majority of people living with Hep C are not even aware of the fact that they have the virus. Sometimes symptoms lie dormant, and other times the symptoms can appear as jaundice (yellowish tint to whites of the eyes and skin), dark-colored urine, bruising or bleeding easily, fatigue, swelling in your legs, or weight loss and loss of appetite.
The CDC has determined that baby boomers are five times more likely than other adults to be infected with Hep C. An article in Newsweek attributed the disproportionate rates of baby boomers and Hep C to the fact that the disease has a long incubation period, meaning “an individual infected with hepatitis C can live the majority of their life not knowing they were infected.”
How Do You Contract Hepatitis C?
The disease is transmitted through infected blood. So baby boomers--who may have participated in intravenous drug use in the 60’s and 70’s, gotten unscreened blood transfusions in the 80’s, or tattooed in the 90’s--are more at risk of not only being infected, but of spending a lifetime unknowingly infecting others.
Newsweek spoke with John W. Ward, the division director for the Center for Disease Control's Division of Viral Hepatitis, who said that the CDC is considering an age-based Hepatitis C screening recommendation to help provide more Hep C testing for baby boomers.
"Just like everyone over 50 should have a check for colon cancer, it might fit into an age-based checklist of preventative services,” Ward told Newsweek. “There's a window of opportunity to identify the disease early.”
A simple blood test can determine whether or not you are living with the disease. Should you test positive, the disease can be managed by monitoring liver enzymes, charting disease progression, going on medication, and/or making lifestyle adjustments (like refraining from drinking alcohol).
For more information, check out this CDC pamphlet on why Hep C testing for baby boomers is vital to your health.
The Effects of Liver Failure
The biggest health risk associated with Hep C is liver failure, which can create discomfort on your right side below your ribs, fatigue, nausea and low blood sugar. There’s no need to wait until the situation becomes that dire, however. Making the small investment in a medical alert device can ensure you get speedy access to help in a medical emergency.
Allan Wolkoff, chairman of the American Liver Society and a professor at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York City, told Newsweek that, “Good people get liver disease; kids get liver disease. You can get liver disease through little or no fault of your own.”
So, while many baby boomers probably only think of using medical alert systems for their parents, there are significant benefits to having one for yourself. As the Hep C epidemic continues to rise, there’s no harm in being prepared for an unknown future.