Why baby boomers should be tested for Hepatitis C

Nov 1, 2013

Health providers in New York state are now required to offer a Hepatitis C test to all baby boomers. That's because about three-quarters of people who have the virus don't know they have it -- and most are in the baby boomer generation. Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen, hosts of WRVO's health and wellness show “Take Care” recently spoke with Dr. Bryce Smith of the Centers for Disease Control about this silent epidemic.

Lorraine Rapp: So I know there are different forms of the virus Hepatitis. This is Hepatitis C —what exactly is it and why is it so dangerous?

Dr. Bryce D. Smith: Well, Hepatitis C is one of five different viruses that actually affect the liver, all of which basically cause inflammation of the liver, yet they’re all very different. Hepatitis C is particularly challenging here in the U.S. because it’s this silent health crisis, a silent epidemic. It impacts the liver in very insidious ways because you don’t realize that you have it. And when you have something like that for 20 to 40 years, which is the case generally for baby boomers in the U.S., it will impact the liver quite tremendously over time—increasing liver disease, progression of fibrosis up into cirrhosis—and that becomes incredibly painful and contributes to a lot of, unfortunately, disease and death in the U.S.

Lorraine Rapp: So why are all the baby boomers being advised to receive a one-time Hepatitis C test?

Dr. Smith: Well, right now we know that that is the primary group that actually has Hepatitis C in the U.S. We estimate that more than two million U.S. baby boomers are living with chronic Hepatitis C, and unfortunately, anywhere from 50 to as much as 75 percent of them are unaware of their infection. If they don’t know anything about it, then certainly they can’t do anything about it. And there are a lot of things that can be to prevent liver disease, including a treatment that will actually cure the infection.

Linda Lowen: Dr. Smith, how would a person have initially contracted Hepatitis C?

Dr. Smith: Well, there’s a number of different ways that one can contract Hepatitis C, the most common is through some sort of percutaneous exposure, often along the lines of injection drug use, which was somewhat more common through the 60s and 70s and 80s. But we also know that a lot of these infections were due to routine healthcare-associated care that one might receive. We hadn’t actually been able to identify Hepatitis C until 1992, which means that Hepatitis C was present in the blood supply in the U.S. And so, someone who received a transfusion or received some form of medical care during that time may have acquired Hepatitis C in that way. And that’s really one of the reasons why we’re saying that all persons born from 1945 through 1965 should be tested.

Lorraine: Are you recommending that you contact your doctor and ask for this test, or is it during your next visit that they will be required to explain this to you and offer it? What do you recommend?

Dr. Smith: Well CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) is recommending that the next time you go in and see your physician that that’s something you should certainly ask for. It’s a very easy test to run, just like any other blood test, so we’re recommending that when persons go in and see their provider, they talk with their provider about it and then hopefully receive the test at that time. This is something they only need once. If someone doesn’t have any ongoing risk, and the vast majority of persons who are baby boomers don’t have any ongoing risk, once you’ve determined you aren’t infected, you don’t need to be tested again.