Baby Boomers: Be Aware of Your Risk for Hepatitis C
SIOUX FALLS (April 1, 2014) – Dealing with many unexplained symptoms, Brenda Faulds of Sioux Falls went to her family practitioner for a wellness checkup, and found it hard to believe what was really wrong with her.
“My liver enzymes were elevated, and more lab tests showed that I had hepatitis C. I was in disbelief,” says Brenda, who doesn’t know how she contracted the virus, other than the fact that she works as a nurse and may have come into contact with infected blood earlier in her career.
Brenda is one of the “lucky ones.” “You can go through your life and never know you have hepatitis C, but you might not be that lucky. It can cause cancer or cirrhosis, and you can die from it,” Brenda says. Thankfully, Brenda’s infection could be treated before it caused deadly damage.
“The fact is that hepatitis C is a killer, as a cause of liver failure and liver cancer. We see the story repeated again and again,” said Dr. Hesham Elgouhari, Hepatologist with Avera Medical Group Liver Disease Sioux Falls.
The Centers for Disease Control has recognized the risk, and recommends that all people within the Baby Boomer generation be tested once for hepatitis C. People born between 1945 and 1965 are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than other population groups. Baby Boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of hepatitis C were the highest. More than 75 percent of adults with hepatitis C are members of the Baby Boomer generation, and most don’t know they are infected. Since chronic hepatitis C can go unnoticed for up to several decades, Baby Boomers could be living with an infection that occurred many years ago.
Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Possible ways of infection include receiving contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply began and universal precautions were adopted in 1992, or injecting drugs, even if only once in the past.
“Yet the recommendation to be screened does not depend upon past risky behavior or risk factors. It depends on age. All Baby Boomers should be tested,” Dr. Elgouhari said.
For patients who test positive for the virus, treatment is becoming easier. Two decades ago, treatment involved an injection three times a week, with or without oral medications, for one year, and chance of cure was 10 to 15 percent.
Today, the disease can be treated with oral medication for 12 weeks, with or without an injection, and patient response to this treatment is up to 95 percent.
“Pharmaceutical company researchers have been working on drugs to fight hepatitis C, and there has been tons of innovation with new medications,” Dr. Elgouhari said.
Now, researchers have arrived at a phenomenal landmark in the history of hepatitis C, with a treatment that involves pills only. “In certain circumstances, we can treat without interferon injections, protecting patients from adverse side effects, with very high efficacy and safety,” Dr. Elgouhari said.
Brenda was treated with a 12-week course that involved two newly-approved oral medications. Serious side effects are uncommon. Suffering from anemia, fatigue and insomnia, Brenda was among the rare patients who do have side effects. Yet her liver enzymes began to test normal after only two weeks, and continue to test normal – a very good sign that her infection is cured.
New drugs provide a 90-percent cure rate. “Hepatitis C is the only chronic viral illness that can be cured, unlike hepatitis B, HIV or herpes simplex,” Dr. Elgouhari said. These diseases can go into remission, but are never cured.
Getting tested for hepatitis C is as easy as asking for the blood test at your next wellness checkup. “If you have a risk factor for hepatitis C, including being a Baby Boomer, do not hesitate to get yourself checked – for you, your family and your loved ones,” Dr. Elgouhari said.