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Baby Boomers: Get Tested For Hepatitis C

Posted by Dr. Suzanne Koven  August 22, 2012 06:53 AM

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If you were born between 1945 and 1965, there's a good chance you can hum the theme song from this:

Thumbnail image for The_Dick_Van_Dyke_Show.jpg

And once owned one of these:


But that you weren't aware of this:


As reported here, the CDC has just recommended that all baby boomers receive one blood test for hepatitis C, unless they already know they've been infected.

"Hepatitis" is any process that inflames the liver. You can have hepatitis from alcohol, or medications, or immune diseases. Viral hepatitis is liver disease caused by a virus. The most common of these have been designated hepatitis A, B, and C.

Hepatitis A (HAV): Is usually contracted by consuming contaminated food or water. There is a vaccine available to prevent it. It does not progress to a chronic infection.

Hepatitis B (HBV): Is blood-borne and contracted through exchange of body fluids such as in sexual contact, sharing needles, razor blades, and toothbrushes, infected tattoo equipment, or--before 1992--blood transfusions. There is a vaccine to prevent it, which is now given routinely to children. Hepatitis B can progress to chronic infection causing cirrhosis (permanent liver damage) and liver cancer.

Hepatitis C (HCV): Is also blood-borne and can also progress to chronic infection, cirrhosis and cancer--often many years after the original exposure. There is not yet a vaccine to prevent HCV.

Of the 3.2 million Americans infected with hepatitis C, it's estimated that the majority are baby boomers, many of whom are not aware they're infected. 15,000 people die each year from complications of HCV, and it's the number one cause of liver damage leading to liver transplant.

Boomers are likely disproportionately affected because they may have received blood transfusions before the blood supply began to be screened 20 years ago, and because they came of age before HIV brought awareness of the risks of unprotected sex and needle sharing.

The rising incidence of deaths from HCV, and the availability of drugs to treat it, prompted the CDC to make these new testing recommendations.

Ideally, all primary care doctors will offer baby boomers a blood test for HCV. But it's been shown here and elsewhere that, for a variety of reasons, not all health professionals quickly implement the many recommendations made by the CDC and other organizations.

But this is an important one, and involves a simple blood test.

If you can name every member of this family...


...ask for it.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Suzanne Koven, M.D. practices internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She writes a monthly column for the Globe's G Health section and her essays have appeared in the More »


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