If you were born between the years 1945 and 1965, you should be aware of an important health statistic that affects you: Baby boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults. Or, to put it another way, three million baby boomers today are infected with hepatitis C and the majority of them don’t know it.
The only way to protect yourself from the devastating consequences of the disease is through a hepatitis C screening test. Fortunately, a trip to your doctor for a simple blood test is all that it takes.
“Baby boomers with hepatitis C were likely infected with the virus in the 1960s through the 1980s, before preventive measures and universal precautions in hospitals were in place,” said Christopher Notte, MD, medical director for Ambulatory Markets at Abington-Jefferson Health. “We also collectively know more now about how hepatitis C is spread than we did in previous decades – such as through the sharing of needles, use of certain tattoo equipment and during sexual intercourse.”
About the Hepatitis C Virus
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. It’s chronic, meaning that it doesn’t go away, and it can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. In fact, cirrhosis caused by hepatitis C is the most common cause of liver failure, resulting in liver transplant.
“The challenging aspect of hepatitis C is that you likely won’t experience any symptoms until you’ve had the virus for a long time,” said Dr. Notte. “This is why screening is so important for anyone who may be at higher risk, such as baby boomers.”
Some people experience mild, flu-like symptoms shortly after they’re first infected. These symptoms may include a mild fever, achiness, nausea and tenderness in the area of your liver – which is located on your right side below your ribcage. However, as liver damage progresses, symptoms worsen and may include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) and a low-grade fever.
The Screening Test
The blood test, called the Hepatitis C Antibody Test, looks for antibodies to the hepatitis C virus in your blood. The presence of antibodies indicate that you are infected or have been infected at some point. There are two potential results of the test, each with a different follow up:
- Non-reactive: You do not have the virus. If you have been exposed recently, however, you may need another test to confirm you are negative.
- Reactive: A reactive test result means you have the virus, or had it at some point in the past. You will need a second test to determine if you are currently infected.
Roughly half of all people with hepatitis C develop chronic liver disease, and every year more than 15,000 deaths are attributed to hepatitis C complications. Knowing your status is important.
“New and improving treatments for hepatitis C are available to help prevent long-term liver damage,” said Dr. Notte. “Medicines can help the body get rid of the virus, but first you must find out if you have the disease. Get tested today.”