Hepatitis C is called a "silent" disease because it progresses slowly and rarely causes symptoms until decades after infection. "Hep C" is a virus that lives in the blood and multiplies in the liver causing inflammation. By the time a person shows symptoms, the damage to the liver can be serious. Unfortunately, it is estimated that up to 75 percent of those with Hep C don't know they have it and aren't getting treatment or making the lifestyle changes necessary to protect their livers. The consequences of this are starting to show as the death rate from Hep C surpassed the death rate for HIV in 2007.
This is important for baby boomers because a national study found that nearly 69 percent of all Hep C cases were among those born between 1945 and 1965. New Hep C infections greatly increased in the 1960s and 70s before peaking in the 1980s and, as a result, baby boomers now make up approximately two-thirds of Hep C cases in the U.S.
There are a number of reasons why baby boomers may have been exposed to Hep C. There was a great deal of casual drug use when boomers were teens and boomers comprise a generation who received medical care in the years before Universal Precautions and testing of the blood supply became standard. Baby boomers might not be identified as having Hep C today because physicians have tight schedules and may or may not be comfortable asking behavioral risk questions particularly if the behavior in question is ancient history.
New strategies must be invented to identify those with undiagnosed Hep C to reduce the illness and death associated with long-term infection. Early diagnosis with Hep C gives you the option to be evaluated for treatment and to make lifestyle changes that may protect your liver.
If you were born between 1945 and 1965, talk to your medical provider about a simple, one-time, hepatitis C test-it could save your life.
For questions about hepatitis C, please visit the Ohio Department of Health's Adult Viral Hepatitis website at www.odh.ohio.gov and click on "H" in the index for "hepatitis."
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