At your annual physical, it's standard for the doctor to check your weight, blood pressure, and heart rate. But if you were born between 1945 and 1965, you should consider asking your doctor for another test: one for hepatitis C.
People born during this period are considered "baby boomers"-and they're five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other age groups. A whopping 75 percent of people diagnosed with hepatitis C are baby boomers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. The most common forms? Hepatitis viruses (or strands) A, B, and C. You can vaccinate against hepatitis A and B, but unfortunately, there is no vaccination for hepatitis C, which spreads from the blood of an infected person (most commonly through blood transfusions, organ transplants, and sharing needles).
According to the CDC, approximately 70 to 80 percent of people with acute Hepatitis C don't have any symptoms. But if signs do pop up, they usually include fever, excessive tiredness, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).
If a person has been infected and undiagnosed for many years, their liver may be damaged. And in many cases, there are no symptoms until liver problems have appeared-meaning it's most likely chronic. While there are treatment options, approximately 19,000 people die each year from liver disease related to hepatitis C.
But I've never had a blood transfusion…am I still at risk?
Three out of four people with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965, and it's guessed that hepatitis C was transmitted mostly during the 1960s through 1980s.
It's not entirely known why this age group has such a high risk of the disease, but the CDC estimates that baby boomers could have gotten infected either from medical equipment or contaminated blood during a surgical procedure before universal sanitary precautions and disease control rules were standard.
Most hepatitis C patients are unsure of how or when they were infected. Still, studies show that many people with hepatitis C not only suffer from the disease, but also from the stigma that surrounds it. It's commonly thought that hepatitis C is due to "sporadic behavioral risks," like "experimentation with drugs, unsanitary tattoos, high-risk sex, or travel to high endemic areas"-even though research shows hepatitis C is usually transmitted through unsanitary medical conditions.
How do I get tested?
A simple blood test does the trick. The hepatitis C test looks for antibodies to the hepatitis C virus, and if it's reactive (or positive), follow-up tests like a magnetic resonance elastography (MRE), transient elastography, or liver biopsy will be done to confirm the diagnosis.
The good news: acute and chronic hepatitis C can be treated with medication and a personalized treatment plan from your doctor.
A gastroenterologist can diagnose and treat hepatitis C. If you're interested in learning more, visit endo-world.com or call the experts at Gastroenterology Associates of Pensacola at 850-474-8988.