What Every Baby Boomer Needs to Know About Hepatitis C
As we age, our health naturally becomes a popular topic, and now that the baby boomer generation is over the age of 50, health may be at the forefront of many of their conversations. But there’s a rarely discussed disease that affects baby boomers much more than any other generation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) want to make sure it becomes a topic of conversation. It’s called hepatitis C.
According to the CDC, hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. The virus is most commonly spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Baby boomers could have been infected from medical equipment or procedures before universal precautions and infection control procedures were adopted. If you received blood before 1992, you could have also contracted hepatitis C. Sharing needles or equipment used to prepare or inject drugs, even if only once in the past, can spread the virus.
Since those in the baby boomer generation were born between 1945 and 1965, many were teens or young adults during the 1960s through the 1980s when transmission of hepatitis C was highest, which could have put them at an increased risk for becoming infected.
In fact, the CDC reports that baby boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults, and three out of four people who are hepatitis C positive fall within the baby boomer generation.
If not caught early, hepatitis C can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis, and it is a leading cause of liver cancer, yet most people with the virus don’t even know they’re infected, since symptoms may not arise for decades. Although some people who get infected can clear the virus from their bodies, most will develop a chronic infection.
If all of this sounds daunting, don’t worry; there is a cure for hepatitis C, but since the only way to know if you have the virus is to get tested, it’s critical to ask your doctor about your risk factor and to receive the test. The test — a simple blood test — looks for antibodies to the virus. Antibodies are chemicals released into the bloodstream when someone gets infected. If the blood test shows that you have these antibodies, a follow-up test will be performed to see if your body cleared the virus or if you still have it.
If you receive the test and the results come back negative, there are simple ways to prevent yourself from becoming infected in the future, even though there is no vaccine to prevent infection. Don’t share personal items like razors or toothbrushes, and if you are planning on getting a tattoo, body piercing or manicure, ask the salon how they prepare and sanitize their equipment and/or rooms after each customer since blood can linger on improperly sanitized equipment.
Although the virus is prevalent among baby boomers, anyone can contract the virus, so if you believe you might have been infected, talk to your doctor about getting tested.
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