This May, we are observing Hepatitis Awareness Month at GI Associates. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the 3.5 million Americans have hepatitis C, with a large percentage of those being baby boomers. In addition to the number of baby boomers who have the disease, the percentage of that same population being screened for hepatitis C is low.
How Is Hepatitis C Spread? What Are The Long-Term Effects?
Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver that is spread through blood and bodily fluids. It is currently most commonly associated with injection drug use, but can also be spread through needle sticks in healthcare settings or be passed from mother to baby at birth. While the disease can be asymptomatic, it presents with a variety of symptoms in approximately 20 to 30 percent of newly infected patients. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, pain in the abdomen, vomiting, lack of appetite, joint pain, jaundice, or discolored urine or stool.
Hepatitis C mainly affects your liver, presenting with chronic inflammation of the organ. Although it directly affects your liver, the effects of the disease present throughout your body. Long-term issues can include anything from yellow skin and eyes to poor bladder and bowel movements, from weight loss to sleep disorders, and most concerning, a steady increase in liver cancer. It can be either acute or chronic, with acute hepatitis C occurring at the beginning stage. The CDC reports that 75 to 80 percent of those who have acute hepatitis C will develop the chronic form of the disease, which can affect them for the rest of their lives.
Where Do Baby Boomers Factor Into These Statistics?
75 percent of patients affected by hepatitis C are baby boomers, who are those born between 1945 and 1965. With liver cancer death rates steadily on the rise over the past several decades, many of which are caused by hepatitis C, this connection needs to be considered. Since not all patients with hepatitis C even show symptoms, it’s becoming more important to get tested for the disease. The correlation between the high rates of hepatitis C amongst the baby boomer population is thought to be related to unsafe medical practices during the 1940s through the 1960s. This includes lack of proper screening processes on blood and organ donations, as well as a different approach to cleanliness standards and infected blood products.
Who Should Get Tested? Is There A Treatment?
Testing for hepatitis C is pretty simple and is done through a blood test. The CDC recommends testing for anyone who is currently or has been an injection drug user, men and women born between 1945 and 1965, patients who received clotting factor concentrates before 1987, organ donor recipients who received their organs before July 1992, healthcare workers who may have been exposed, those who have HIV, or children whose mothers have hepatitis C.
If the diagnosis is positive, treatment and monitoring will depend on your individual health. Those with an acute form of the illness may not need treatment. There are certain drug therapies available to patients who have chronic hepatitis C.
If you have any questions about hepatitis C, especially if you’re considered a baby boomer, schedule an appointment to talk to one of our doctors.