Experts have issued a new preventive health warning for anyone born between 1945 and 1965: get screened for hepatitis.
The so-called baby boomer generation makes up about a quarter of the U.S. population, yet accounts for nearly three-fourths of all hepatitis C cases in the U.S. – and most don't know they're infected.
Alegent Creighton Clinic Gastroenterologist Bennie Upchurch, III, M.D., treats patients with hepatitis. "We do see it a lot in people who are born between 1945 and 1970, but many cases are asymptomatic," he warns.
That's why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends anyone born between 1945 and 1965 get a one-time test for the hepatitis C virus – even if they have never experienced any symptoms. The virus, if left untreated, causes an infection that can lead to liver disease, cirrhosis, and other chronic health problems. Health officials believe many of the millions of infected Americans have been unknowingly living with hepatitis C for decades.
"We didn't have a test for hepatitis C until 1989," Dr. Upchurch explains. "We saw it, but we didn't know what it was; it was referred to as non-A non-B hepatitis. And that was at the tail end of the time when drug use and shared needles was more common."
Now a simple blood test is all it takes to detect if patients have the virus. The CDC estimates a one-time hepatitis C test of all baby boomers could identify more than 800,000 additional cases.
The good news: there is a cure.
"Over the last ten to twelve years, therapies have become much more effective for treatment of hepatitis C. The earlier the disease is found, before it causes other chronic health problems, the more effective the treatments are at curing the virus," says Dr. Upchurch.