Many people know they’re supposed to have certain health screenings as they age: mammograms at 40, colonoscopies at 50, and so on. But there is one screening all Baby Boomers should consider, even if they have no symptoms. It’s for hepatitis C – sometimes called the ‘stealth virus’ – and half of those infected don’t know they have it.
A recent study found that Baby Boomers are six times more likely to have hepatitis C than other age groups. In fact, three out of four people with hepatitis C are Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). But should you be concerned?
“Hepatitis C is mainly acquired through contact with blood or body fluids,” says infectious disease specialist, Vincent Lo Re, III, MD, MSCE, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania. “People may have been exposed to the virus through blood transfusions prior to July 1992, after which the blood supply was tested for the virus. Other risk factors include injected drug use, intranasal cocaine use, undergoing hemodialysis, unprotected sex with a hepatitis C-infected partner, having a mother with hepatitis C, or being HIV infected.”
Why get tested for hepatitis C, especially if you don’t consider yourself at high-risk? It’s called stealth for a reason – the virus can silently damage your liver as time goes on, sometimes leading to complications such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.
“People can forget, or want to forget, about risky behaviors from their past, or they are worried about the stigma associated with the diagnosis,” Dr. Lo Re says. “But getting diagnosed is more important than worrying about the stigma, especially since we now have once-daily, all-oral antiviral therapies with little or no side effects that can cure hepatitis C in more than 95 percent of patients with as little as 12 weeks of treatment.”
Dr. Lo Re recommends talking to a primary care provider as the first step toward testing.