Here’s a puzzle: Baby boomers are certainly not five times more likely to use injection drugs than other adults, so why are they five times more likely to have hepatitis C?
It may be no fault of their own. “This generation grew up before the hepatitis C virus was first identified in 1989” says internist Paul Knoepflmacher, MD. “It’s likely that boomers who have it were infected during medical procedures that occurred before we had better screening.” (Screening of the blood supply and organ donations didn’t begin until 1992.)
Because of this exposure, the CDC recommends a one-time test for all baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965. But here’s the thing: recent studies show that only about 13 percent of baby boomers have actually gotten that test. (Here’s more info about why getting tested for hepatitis C is so important.)
Symptoms of hepatitis C are subtle, and many of those infected don’t experience any noticeable symptoms. (Learn more about the symptoms of hepatitis C here.) That means hepatitis C can linger silently for decades before leading to more serious conditions, like cirrhosis or liver cancer.
“People who were infected 20 or 30 years ago may just be starting to show signs of liver damage now,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher. “Testing is critical so you can get diagnosed, treated, and cured.”
Thankfully, medications for hepatitis C have improved. While previous meds had more severe side effects, newer drugs take just 12 weeks and have a 95 percent cure rate.
Even better news: Not only can treatment prevent further damage to the liver, but liver health can actually improve overtime after you’ve been cured of the virus. If you’re a baby boomer or have other risk factors for hepatitis C, talk to your doctor about getting tested.