The CDC Now Recommends One-Time Hepatitis C Test for Baby Boomers
SIOUX FALLS (Feb. 1, 2013) - Baby Boomers – the largest population group in the United States – share common memories of hula hoops, rock ‘n’ roll, record albums and TV sit-coms. Unfortunately, members of this generation born between 1945 and 1965 also share a higher risk of liver damage due to hepatitis C.
“Hepatitis C is a silent killer,” said Dr. Hesham Elgouhari, hepatologist with Avera Medical Group Liver Disease Sioux Falls. Hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. The disease can cause serious health problems including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death. In fact, hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and the leading cause of liver transplants. “People with hepatitis C often have no symptoms and can live with an infection for decades without feeling ill,” Dr. Elgouhari said.
The liver has many functions, but its main role is to filter blood from the digestive tract before it goes to the rest of the body. The liver detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. It also produces proteins which are important for blood clotting and other functions. “There is no replacement for the human liver,” Dr. Elgouhari said. There are no medical procedures or treatments which can provide liver function, for example, in the way that dialysis can substitute for kidney function. “The only cure for liver failure is a liver transplant.”
More than 75 percent of adults with hepatitis C were born from 1945 through 1965, and most don’t know they are infected. Baby Boomers are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than other population groups. Yet serious complications for this silent disease are preventable through appropriate treatment. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 have a one-time blood test for hepatitis C.
“There are a lot of people in our region who have a hepatitis C infection, and don’t even know it,” Dr. Elgouhari said.
Why are Baby Boomers at higher risk? It’s believed that many people became infected decades ago, in the 1970s and 1980s, when rates of hepatitis C were the highest. 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 in 1992 and universal precautions were adopted, or injecting drugs, even if only once in the past. Still, many Baby Boomers with hepatitis C do not know how or when they were infected.
In addition to Baby Boomers, anyone who received a blood transfusion before July 1992, and anyone who has a history of IV drug use – even one time – should be screened with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) test, also known as the hepatitis C antibody test. It’s a simple blood test performed at a physician’s clinic.
New medications have recently been approved by the FDA, making treatment more effective than ever. “If treatment is effective, it essentially cures hepatitis C, and a patient’s risk for liver failure and liver-related death goes down significantly,” Dr. Elgouhari said. “Our goal is to catch hepatitis C early – before it can cause significant liver damage. If you believe you might be at risk for hepatitis C, ask your primary care provider about the one-time blood test to check for this virus.”
To learn more, go to www.AveraLiverDisease.org