All people born in the post WWII era, between 1945 and 1965, are considered baby boomers. This is likely due to the fact that there was a significant rise in our population in the two decades after World War II. Over 76,000,000 babies were born between 1945 and 1965.

Understanding risk

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recognized that baby boomers are 5 times as likely to be infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), as are other people. It is estimated that 4.1 million people are infected and over 75 percent of infected adults are baby boomers. The majority of hepatitis C infected people are still not aware they have the virus.

The reasons for the prevalence of HCV in this population are not quite clear. Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. When infected blood from a person enters the bloodstream of a non-infected person, transmission of the virus may occur. The blood supply in the USA was not widely screened for the virus until 1992, making blood transfusions “risky business” for those who needed blood or blood products. Neither were universal precautions solidly in place. People who injected drugs, even one time, put themselves at risk for acquiring hepatitis C.

Knowing the enemy

Hepatitis C is an insidious disease because it is mainly asymptomatic in the early years and people may have the virus for 20-30 years unaware that they are ill. The virus attacks the liver causing scar tissue to build over time. In late stage disease, the liver may become so scarred it is unable to do its jobs. This is called cirrhosis.

"The majority of hepatitis C infected people are still not aware they have the virus."

Cirrhosis may lead to liver cancer, liver failure and even death if a lifesaving transplant is not available. Approximately 20 percent of HCV patients develop cirrhosis.

In 2012 the CDC recommended that all baby boomers get tested. Testing involves a simple blood test to see if there are antibodies in the blood. If the blood is antibody positive, it means the patient has been exposed. Further blood testing checks to see if the patient has the actual virus and not just the antibody.

It is important to know your status. Healthy lifestyle choices may improve the prognosis. New and safe treatments with direct acting antivirals are of short duration, with minimal side effects, and have an excellent rate of cure. Ask your physician for a one-time hepatitis C antibody test.