CDC recommends anyone born from 1945 to 1965 get tested for chronic hepatitis C

Monday, December 3, 2012
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This year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that baby boomers be tested for hepatitis C. The disease has few, if any, symptoms, and those infected can live with hepatitis C for decades without even knowing it.

"Not just seniors, but for any individual, it can be very serious disease to have," says Jane Wernsman, director of the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center. "It is the leading cause of liver problems. Treating hepatitis C infections is more cost-effective than treating the disease complications that can lead to more serious liver-related problems."

There's no vaccine to prevent the disease, and most infections are thought to have occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, before precautions were taking with the nation's blood supply. Though hepatitis C testing is not available at the health department, Wernsman says the disease can be detected with a simple blood test at your physician's office.

"I think there is an awareness, but as we have found with many health related issues ... sometimes folks don't know until it hits home," says Wernsman. "There should be more awareness."

Here's what else you need to know from the CDC about hepatitis C testing:

What should baby boomers know about hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. The disease can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death. In fact, hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and the leading cause of liver transplants. People with hepatitis C:

... often have no symptoms

...can live with an infection for decades without feeling sick

...can be successfully treated with medications

Is there a test for hepatitis C?

Yes. Several different blood tests are used to test for hepatitis C. A doctor may order just one or a combination of these tests. Typically, a person will first get a screening test to show whether he or she has developed antibodies to the hepatitis C virus. (An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus.) Having a positive antibody test means that a person was exposed to the virus at some time in his or her life. If the antibody test is positive, a doctor will most likely order a second test to confirm whether the virus is still present in the person's bloodstream.

Why should baby boomers get tested?

* More than 75 percent of adults with hepatitis C are baby boomers born from 1945 through 1965. Most of them don't know they are infected.

* Baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C.

* Liver disease, liver cancer and deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise.

* As baby boomers age, there is a greater chance that they will develop serious, life-threatening liver disease from hepatitis C.

* Testing people in this generation will help them learn if they are infected and get them into lifesaving care and treatment.

* Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer.

Why do baby boomers have such high rates of hepatitis C?

The reason baby boomers have the highest rates of hepatitis C is not completely understood. Most boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of hepatitis C were the highest. Since chronic hepatitis C can go unnoticed for up to several decades, baby boomers could be living with an infection that occurred many years ago.

Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Many baby boomers could have gotten infected from contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992 and universal precautions were adopted. Others may have become infected from injecting drugs, even if only once in the past. Still, many baby boomers do not know how or when they were infected.

How is chronic hepatitis C treated?

Medications called antivirals can treat many people with chronic hepatitis C. Treatment is now being improved with the addition of other medications to the standard antiviral treatment. However, not everyone needs or can benefit from treatment. It is important to be checked by a doctor experienced in treating chronic hepatitis C. He or she can determine the most appropriate medical care. Decisions about starting treatment are based on many factors, such as the type of virus, the condition of the liver and other health conditions. Whether or not to be treated or when to start treatment should be discussed with your doctor.

To protect your liver, you can:

* Ask your doctor before taking any prescription, over-the-counter medications, supplements or vitamins. For instance, some drugs, such as certain pain medications, can potentially damage the liver.

* Avoid alcohol because it can increase the speed of liver damage.

* Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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