If you or someone you know were born between 1945-1965, U.S. health officials want you to get a one time test for hepatitis C, since 2 million in this age group are infected with the liver-destroying virus and don't know it –– until it's too late.
“A one-time blood test for hepatitis C should be on every baby boomer’s [the generation born from 1945 through 1965] medical checklist,” said Centers for Disease Control Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H, according to a CDC press release. “The new recommendations can protect the health of an entire generation of Americans and save thousands of lives.”
It's surely on Frieden's checklist. The CDC Director, a baby boomer himself, plans to get tested at his next well visit, WebMD said.
The issue has taken new urgency with the spike in hepatitis C related deaths. "Deaths from hepatitis C have nearly doubled over the past decade," Frieden said Thursday during a press conference, HealthDay reports. More than 15,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related illnesses.
What's more, hepatitis C is a silent killer. It can take decades for the virus to do its damage. Hepatitis C, which is transmitted through the blood, causes liver cancer (the fastest-rising cause of cancer-related deaths) and is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.
"Hepatitis C is particularly dangerous because it is a silent killer. It can live for decades in a person's body, slowly destroying the liver, while causing few symptoms," says John Ward, MD, WebMD reported.
Ward, who directs the division of viral hepatitis at the National Center for HIV/ AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention in Atlanta, said those who are infected may not know they were ever at risk. "Some baby boomers may not remember or know of the events that place them at risk," he said.
Indeed, according to the CDC, studies show that many baby boomers who were infected with the virus decades ago, do not perceive themselves to be at risk, and have never been screened. And it's baby boomers that account for about two-thirds of the 3.2 million infected Americans.
In May, Digital Journal reported that it's possible some baby boomers were infected in ways other than injection drug use or blood transfusions from long ago.
Hepatitis C can also come from:
● being born to a mother with hepatitis C
● having sex with an infected person
● being tattooed or pierced with unsterilized tools that were used on an infected person
● getting an accidental needle stick with a needle that was used on an infected person
● using an infected person’s razor or toothbrush
● sharing drug needles with an infected person
● manicures with unsterilized tools that were used on an infected person
It is these kinds of experiences that might not raise flags in the minds of many patients or their physicians.
What if the Hepatitis C test is positive?
If you take the test and it's positive, there's something you can do to lower your risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis:
●Avoiding certain medications that affect the liver
●Getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B
That's not all. Newly available therapies can cure up to 75 percent of infections. Put together the expanded testing, along with appropriate care and treatment, could identify up to 800,000 new cases and save more than 120,000 lives.
"The earlier the treatment is provided, the more effective it can be at reducing risk for liver damage and liver cancer," Ward said.
Said Frieden: "The sooner you know the more you can protect your liver and your life," The Chicago Tribune reported.