What To Know About Baby Boomers and Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection causes acute hepatitis C, which may progress to chronic hepatitis C. Many people with hepatitis C do not show symptoms until severe liver damage. If it is not treated, chronic hepatitis C can cause life-threatening liver disease.1,2
Fortunately, we can now test and cure people with hepatitis C. But only about 60 percent of people in the U.S. with hepatitis C know they have it. This means access to testing limits our ability to address hepatitis C.3
Chronic hepatitis C has been most common among people born between 1945 and 1965 (Baby Boomers). Now, because of the opioid crisis, new HCV infections are occurring more in people born between 1981 and 1996 (Millennials).3
To address this, the CDC and other organizations now recommend that all adults should get tested for hepatitis C at least once. They also recommend that people with ongoing risk factors get tested regularly.
Are Baby Boomers at a higher risk for hep C?
A CDC report in 2012 showed that about 1 in 30 Baby Boomers were infected with HCV. This infection rate was 5 times higher than for other generations. And Baby Boomers made up about 75 percent of all chronic HCV infections among U.S. adults.1,4
The CDC then recommended Hepatitis C screening for all Baby Boomers. This helped identify more chronic hepatitis C cases than the previous guidelines, which were based only on risk factors. However, the hepatitis C epidemic has changed since 2012. Because of increased injection drug use, new HCV infections are more common in young adults. According to a CDC study in 2018, Millennials and Baby Boomers each make up 36 percent of new chronic hepatitis C infections. People born between 1966 and 1980 (Generation X) make up about 23 percent of new infections.2,5
Hepatitis C is still a concern for Baby Boomers because of their individual risk factors. But the opioid crisis is also increasing the risk for all generations.
Why is the risk higher for Baby Boomers?
We do not know why Baby Boomers have a higher risk of HCV infection. Some studies suggest that they were more exposed to injection drug use during young adulthood in the 1970s and 1980s.1 Also, many Baby Boomers may have been infected by blood transfusions before we began screening the blood supply in 1992. It is also possible that HCV infections were more common because of poor medical practices at the time.6,7
Other studies also show that lack of health insurance, use of alcohol, and service in Vietnam may have contributed to the higher infection risk. Most Baby Boomers with chronic hepatitis C will not know how they were infected.4,8
What are the current testing recommendations?
The CDC now recommends testing for:5
- Every adult at least once
- Pregnant women during every pregnancy
- Everyone with current risk factors regularly
Risk factors include injection drug use, sharing drug preparation equipment, and certain medical conditions. Talk to your doctor to discuss your risk factors and how often you should get tested.9
Testing is especially important for Baby Boomers. Living longer with chronic hepatitis C increases the chances of serious liver disease. Testing can help you get treated quicker.7
If you and your doctor decide you should be tested, you may first take an FDA-approved test for a hepatitis C antibody. A positive test means you were exposed to the virus. Either you have an active infection or you fought off a previous infection. You would then take an FDA-approved test for HCV RNA. If this test is positive, it means you have an active hepatitis C infection.9
Your doctor can give you more information specific to your situation. They can help you get tested, advise you on precautions to take, and help get treatment if it is needed.
Do you experience long-term side effects from hep C treatment?