Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the importance of Hepatitis C screening for those people born between 1945 and 1965. The CDC stated that “without other risk factors, all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 should have a one-time screening for the hepatitis C virus (HCV) according to new recommendations being published early online today in Annals of Internal Medicine”.
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a viral disease that leads to swelling (inflammation) of the liver. It can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. It affects more than 3 million people in the United States. As many as 2 million may not realize that they have the disease. That’s because hepatitis C can linger for years without causing problems, often taking 20 or more years to significantly progress.
How Is Hepatitis C Contracted?
- Have been on long-term kidney dialysis
- Have regular contact with blood at work (for instance, as a health care worker)
- Have unprotected sexual contact with a person who has hepatitis C (this risk is much less common than hepatitis B, but the risk is higher for those who have many sex partners, already have a sexually transmitted disease, or are infected with HIV)
- Inject street drugs or share a needle with someone who has hepatitis C
- Received a blood transfusion before July 1992
- Received a tattoo or acupuncture with contaminated instruments (the risk is very low with licensed, commercial tattoo facilities)
- Received blood, blood products, or solid organs from a donor who has hepatitis C
- Share personal items such as toothbrushes and razors with someone who has hepatitis C (less common)
- Were born to a hepatitis C-infected mother (this occurs in about 1 out of 20 babies born to mothers with HCV, which is much less common than with hepatitis B)
What Are The Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Most people who were recently infected with hepatitis C do not have symptoms. About 1 in 10 has yellowing of the skin (jaundice) that gets better.
Of people who get infected with hepatitis C, most develop a long-term (chronic) infection. Usually there are no symptoms. If the infection has been present for many years, the liver may be permanently scarred. This is called cirrhosis. In many cases, there may be no symptoms of the disease until cirrhosis has developed.
The following symptoms could occur with hepatitis C infection:
- Abdominal pain (right upper abdomen)
- Abdominal swelling (due to fluid called ascites)
- Clay-colored or pale stools
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
Why Are Baby Boomers At High Risk of Having Hepatitis C?
Because Hepatitis C is a slowly progressive disease, you can have the disease for a long period of time and never know it. For this reason, many born between 1945 and 1965 are Hepatitis C positive. Screening and vaccination for Hepatitis has only been recommended over the last 20 years, therefore this group of people may have not been screened and do not know they have the disease.
SO, if you were born between 1945 and 1965 see your health care provider for a screening test.