Knowing the risk factors for health conditions can help you determine whether or not you need to be screened for them—and when it comes to one particular illness, one of the biggest risk factors is simple: the year you were born.
Many people born before a certain year were disproportionately exposed to a viral infection before it was discovered, and if left untreated, this illness can have serious—and even life-threatening—consequences. Read on to learn whether you need to make an appointment for a blood test, and how this condition silently affects your health.
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“Hepatitis” refers to swelling of the liver, most often caused by a virus. Of the five types of hepatitis—A,B,C,D, and E—hepatitis B and C are the two most common forms in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that hepatitis C (HCV) disproportionately affects older Americans who were infected before the disease was discovered and understood. In fact, according to a 2012 CDC report, people born during a particular 20-year time period account for 27 percent of those living with hepatitis C, and 73 percent of all HCV-related deaths. Many of these individuals are unaware that they are infected, and are not receiving care for their condition, the CDC warns.
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The CDC advises baby boomers, or people born between approximately 1946 and 1964, to get a blood test to screen for hepatitis C. This is especially important because HCV is considered a “silent” disease, which can persist for decades without symptoms before ultimately causing serious health complications
Other health organizations have echoed the CDC’s concern. “If you were born during 1945-1965, talk to your doctor about getting tested for hepatitis C,” advises the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APICE). “More than 15,000 Americans, most of them baby boomers, die each year from hepatitis C-related illness.”
You may also be at heightened risk for HCV if you have HIV, have ever injected or inhaled drugs (even once, or a long time ago), are a health care worker who has been exposed to blood, have a tattoo, received a blood transfusion before 1992, were treated for a blood clotting disorder before 1987, or have ever received hemodialysis, the Mayo Clinic says.
Several dangerous conditions can be caused by HCV, experts warn. “Chronic hepatitis C can result in serious, even life-threatening health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer,” the CDC explains. Since individuals with chronic HCV often live without symptoms for a long time, the presence of symptoms often means the disease is advanced.
Symptoms of HCV may include dark urine, fatigue, fever, joint pain, discolored stool, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and jaundice. Though many of these symptoms are likely to be caused by something other than HCV, it’s still important to discuss them with your doctor.
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Testing is an essential tool in the fight against hepatitis C, and it’s especially important for baby boomers. “The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to get tested,” says the APICE, noting that a simple blood test can reveal whether you have been infected. “It is estimated that one-time testing of everyone born during 1945 through 1965 will prevent more than 120,000 deaths,” the organization says.
While there is no cure for HCV, treatments are available which can lower your risk of serious illness and help manage your symptoms. Speak with your doctor about screening for hepatitis C if you believe you may be at heightened risk.