According to HepCHope.com, a staggering 1 in 30 Baby Boomers has Hepatitis C. That’s 3.2 million people. These numbers are just an estimate, as many affected people are unaware due to the disease’s dormant symptoms; most don’t become perceptible until many years after being infected.
The most chronic blood-borne infection in the United States, Hep C can lead to severe liver damage, cancer – and even death if left untreated. As a precaution, the Centers for Disease Control is advising all people born between the years of 1945 & 1965 to have a one-time blood test to help prevent the spread of this infection.
You may be thinking, “Why me?” or “I don’t have any symptoms.” Don’t feel that you’re at fault. Due to poor infection control criteria in the 1980s and 1990s (especially for donated blood and organ donations), people in this age group are 5 times more likely to be affected. Recreational drug use, careers in the medical field, and sharing any tools that may have come in contact with contaminated blood (needles, toothbrushes, razors) are other ways the disease may have been transmitted to you.
Just because you don’t see or feel any symptoms, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. During Acute Hep C – the stage which lasts for the first six months after one is infected, most people won’t show any signs at all. The people who do may experience darkening of the urine, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), loss of appetite, fever, and fatigue. In some lucky cases, a strong & healthy immune system will eradicate Acute Hep C from the body, and mend any liver damage that has already transpired. However, left untreated, the majority of those infected will develop Chronic Hep C.
The importance of the body’s liver cannot be overstated; it not only detoxifies our blood – but also stockpiles essential vitamins & minerals and releases them when needed. Out of every 100 patients with Chronic Hep C, between 5 and 20 will develop cirrhosis of this invaluable organ. This gradual inflammation and scarring occurs over the course of many years, and is often discovered once it’s too late. The only answer to end-stage liver disease is a liver transplant.
Don’t delay testing for fear of what you may find out; this is one case where ignorance is certainly not bliss. Treatment is simpler and more effective the sooner the disease is detected. Additionally, great strides have been made in Hep C treatments – with current success rates at an all-time high of 95%. Years ago, a Hep C diagnosis meant weekly injections, oral medications, and a myriad of unpleasant side effects. Modern advancements have made oral anti-viral medications convenient and strong enough to ward off the disease in most cases.
Gastroenterologists or Hepatologists are both highly qualified to treat Hep C and get you on the road to “virus clearance” – the stage at which the virus is exterminated from the blood. To call this disease diverse would be an understatement; there are 6 genotypes and 50 subtypes, so don’t be surprised if what is prescribed for another patient doesn’t work for you.
Open lines of communication with your physician will result in the best course of treatment. If you fall into the at-risk “Baby Boomer” age group, pay a visit to the world-class physicians at Austin Gastroenterology. Their cutting-edge treatments and caring bedside manner make their team stand out from the pack. For more information, contact the Austin Gastroenterology office closest to you, or schedule an appointment online.
4U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
5National Library of Medicine