Can a person’s birthday indicate the likelihood of contracting a particular disease? In the case of hepatitis C, absolutely. This article outlines important facts about the correlation between the baby boomer generation and the contraction of hepatitis C.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1965) are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than adults born after that time period. While the medical, sociological, and epidemiological research surrounding the correlation between baby boomers and the increased rate of Hepatitis C is ongoing, the main reason that baby boomers are more susceptible to hepatitis C involves a lack of awareness of the disease and its transmission mechanisms, lack of preventative measures, and the fact that peak transmission rates of hepatitis C occurred during the 1960s – 1980s.
Hepatitis C is an infection in the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus. Currently, 3.5 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis C. However, many people do not know they have hepatitis C due to the minimal symptoms involved in this disease. Some people who are infected with hepatitis C can remain symptom free for decades. Most people with acute hepatitis C do not have acute illness symptoms and therefore don’t seek medical care. It is estimated that 40-85% of people living with the hepatitis C virus are unaware that they are infected with the virus. If a person does exhibit clinical symptoms of hepatitis C, the main symptoms include: jaundice, stomach pain, loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue.
Hepatitis C is spread via body fluids or via the blood of a person who already has hepatitis C. The virus can be transmitted via sharing needles or being accidentally pricked by an infected needle, unprotected sex, or via a mother to her baby at birth. During the height of hepatitis C transmission, blood screening protocols for hepatitis C were not commonplace therefore persons were more likely to be unaware that they harbored this disease. It is recommended that people who have received blood, tissue, or an organ from a donor (especially a donor with hepatitis C) get tested for hepatitis C. Also, if a person has ever injected drugs via needles it is highly recommended to get tested for hepatitis C. Furthermore, children of mothers with HIV or anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should be screened for hepatitis C. There is a simple blood test that determines whether a person has the hepatitis C virus called the hepatitis C antibody test. Hepatitis C antibodies are chemicals that get released into the bloodstream when a person becomes infected with the disease at some point in time. Results of the hepatitis C antibody blood test will be either negative (non-reactive) or positive (reactive). Positive test results indicate hepatitis C antibodies in the person’s bloodstream. If a person receives a positive test, he/she should acquire additional blood tests to determine whether he/she is currently infected with hepatitis C.
While there may be a stigma against hepatitis C, it’s important to remember that there is no shame in having hepatitis C. Even though the majority of people with hepatitic C contracted the virus through risky behavior such as needle sharing and intravenous drug use or unprotected sex, it’s important to remember that these people may not have known about the ways in which hepatitis C is shared or that they were even infected with the virus at all. In addition, many people became victims of hepatitis C after receiving an infected blood transfusion due to lack of effective blood-screening techniques for the hepatitis C virus during the 1960s – 1980s indicating that hepatitis C could have been contracted through non-risky behavior such as a blood transfusion for medical purposes. Regardless of how a person is infected with this virus, there can be devastating complications from hepatitis C if the virus remains undetected or untreated for an extended period of time, so it’s important for at-risk individuals to get tested and obtain treatment when appropriate.
There are many treatments are available for hepatitis C! With any disease treatment, it is more effective to initiate treatment early in the progression of the disease. Medication options for hepatitis C include a once-daily pill called Zepatier that can potentially cure a person from hepatitis C. Harvoni is another once-daily pill that typically eliminates the Hepatitis C virus from an infected person within 8-12 weeks. Treatment for hepatitis C can eliminate the disease entirely or prevent long-term complications of hepatitis C including chronic hepatitis C which manifests into liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Be sure to consult a medical provider and inquire about potential side-effects before taking any medications.
While the lack of education and awareness around hepatitis C transmission and screening procedures place the baby boomer generation at an extremely high risk of developing (or already having developed) hepatitis C, we now know that hepatitis C is preventable if proper precautionary measures are taken. For example, remember to use a latex condoms during sex, thoroughly clean any razors or body piercing materials before using, never share needles, and if possible, don’t receive blood, tissue, or organ donations from a person who has the hepatitis C virus.