Those born between 1945 and 1965 have better reason than any other generation to be tested for hepatitis C, according to a fact sheet from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Baby boomers are five times more likely to have the disease, according to the CDC, and local officials warn the symptoms aren’t always noticeable. There are treatments available that can cure the disease, according to the fact sheet. If left untreated, however, hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer and liver transplants.
“Many people don’t notice anything at all until they start experiencing some jaundice — yellowing of the skin or eyes,” said Paulette Magur, public health nursing supervisor at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department. “It can lay silent for quite a few years.”
Most doctors are aware of the heightened risk for hepatitis C among the baby boomer generation and will offer a blood test at their patients’ regular checkup, Magur said. Those who haven’t had the test can ask for it through their doctor, she said.
The reason baby boomers have high rates of hepatitis C is not fully understood, according to the CDC, although most were believed to have been infected sometime in the ’60s through the ’80s, when transmission was highest. The disease is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Hepatitis C is occasionally spread through sexual contact, Magur said, but that’s less likely.
According to the CDC, those born between 1945 and 1965 could have contracted the disease from medical equipment or procedures before universal infection control procedures were adopted. They could also have been infected by contaminated blood before widespread screening eliminated the virus from the blood supply in 1992.
“(Baby boomers) may not have even known they were being exposed,” Magur said, “so they were never tested.”
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