Yesterday the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced that all baby boomers (adults born in 1945-1965) should be tested for Hepatitis C in order to increase earlier detection of this often silent disease. The CDC predicts that one in thirty Baby Boomers is infected with Hep C, and that close to a million people will be newly diagnosed if all in this age category are tested. The hope is that this strategy will save over 100,000 lives.
What is hepatitis C? Hep C is a viral infection that primarily targets the liver, and can potentially lead to severe liver damage, cancer and death. The good news is that 15-25% of people infected will "fight off" the disease and not become chronically ill with this disease.
How does someone catch Hep C? This infection is blood-born, so it is transmitted when there is direct blood-to-blood contact such as when people share needles for drug use. Baby boomers who received blood transfusions before 1992 could have been infected then and harbored silent disease for several decades. (Blood transfusions after that time were able to be screened and are safe.) Hep C can also be spread through sex with an infected person, but the transmission rates are very low (as measured in monogamous couples where one partner has hep C and the other does not.) Tattoos are another potential source of transmission. Unfortunately, most studies show that 10% of people with hepatitis C have no identifiable risk factors, so that is why everyone should be screened regardless of their behavioral risk factors.
Isn't there a vaccine for hepatitis? For Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B- YES, but not yet for Hep C.
What is the treatment? Unfortunately, the treatment for hep C is not as simple as taking an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, but it is very effective. Hep C treatment typically lasts a year and requires weekly injections, and the medications can have marked and serious side effects (especially fatigue, flu-like symptoms and depression.) Newer medications may offer shorter treatment courses and will be much better tolerated.
How do I get tested? Schedule an appointment to talk with your doctor about getting a blood test for Hepatitis C. The results are not exactly black and white, so you will want to learn more details before you decide...more on this tomorrow.
BOTTOM LINE: New recommendations suggest ALL BABY BOOMERS should get tested for Hepatitis C.