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Baby boomers, hepatitis C

GLENN ELLIS | 8/7/2017, 6:18 a.m.
Most of us have seen the commercials on television stating that people born from 1945 to 1965 have the highest ...
Image of the human anatomy highlights the liver. Stock photo

Strategies for Well-Being

Most of us have seen the commercials on television stating that people born from 1945 to 1965 have the highest rate of hepatitis C, but most don’t know they’re infected.

This is a very sobering fact from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this disease. The commercials go on to say that someone with hepatitis C can live for decades without any symptoms, but over time, the disease can cause serious health problems.

People born from 1945 to 1965, sometimes referred to as baby boomers, are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults. Hepatitis C can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis and even liver cancer.

The reason that people born from 1945-1965 have high rates of hepatitis C is not completely understood. Most baby boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1960s through the 1980s, when transmission of hepatitis C was highest.

The word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. The reason why it is called “hepatitis C” is because there are three different types of hepatitis – hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C – each caused by three different viruses. Each of the different types has a different mode of transportation and can affect the liver in their own unique way. Those with hepatitis A can usually improve without treatment, whereas hepatitis B and C can be either acute or chronic. Only hepatitis A and B have vaccines available to prevent them.

Hepatitis C can lead to damage of the liver, the largest organ in the body. This important organ helps the body digest food, store energy and remove toxic materials. Hepatitis C can cause serious long-term health problems of the liver including liver failure, liver cancer or even death. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is the most common reason for liver transplantation in the U.S. More Americans die from hepatitis C than any other infectious disease, as reported by the CDC. In 2015, almost 20,000 Americans died from hepatitis C-related causes, and most were age 55 and older. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine at this time to prevent hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Baby boomers could have gotten infected from medical equipment or procedures before universal precautions and infection control procedures were adopted. Others could have gotten infected from contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening virtually eliminated the virus from the blood supply by 1992. Sharing needles or equipment used to prepare or inject drugs, even if only once in the past, could spread hepatitis C.

Anyone with chronic hepatitis C will need to be closely monitored by their doctor. It is advised for them to avoid alcohol as it can cause further damage to the liver. They will also need to inform their doctor or pharmacist that they have hepatitis C before taking a prescription medication, supplements or over-the-counter medications, as they could potentially harm the liver.