A “baby boomer” is someone who was born between 1945-1965. This generation often mistakenly assumes that diseases, such as any form of hepatitis, to be considered sexually transmitted and thus, if they have had the same partner and/or not had any sexual relations in a period of years, they are not at risk and could not possibly have a hepatitis C infection.
When, in fact, many statistics say that up to 75% of hepatitis C infections occur in people who are baby boomers. That equates to an estimated 2.3 million baby boomers living with hepatitis C, many of whom are unaware.
Although 1 in 10 people with the infection have no idea how they became infected, there are some behaviors or medical experiences that your doctor may ask you about as part of a preliminary screening before testing you for hepatitis C.
Is hepatitis C a concern for me?
If you are a person who engages in IV drug use, you are at risk of contracting Hepatitis C. If you have gotten a tattoo from an unlicensed tattoo parlor or tattoo artist at any time in your life, you are also at risk. If you have undergone long-term dialysis, you may be at risk. Most importantly, if you have ever had a blood transfusion or received blood products before the early 1990s (before blood was thoroughly tested), you could be at risk. Lastly, if you are sexually active, you may be at risk as well.
Many believe that if they have hepatitis C, they would see symptoms and thus, know something was wrong. Some people even believe that they would know that they had hepatitis C (also known as “hep C”) specifically, based on their ability to search the internet and list their symptoms. Unfortunately, this is not a safe method of diagnosis.
Hepatitis C can appear as symptoms that not all baby boomers recognize as being a symptom. For example, one of the ways that hep C effects the body is by overtaxing the liver. The symptom most commonly associated with this problem is a feeling of tiredness. For many people in their 50s-70s, the feeling of tiredness is simply associated with the process of general aging. For other people in this age range, they have other diagnosed ailments or illnesses which can result in insomnia, poor sleep, or tiredness. This means that a person who feels run down can easily mistake that feeling as general age or an already known condition, rather than as a symptom for an undiagnosed hepatitis C infection.
This mistake can allow the hep C virus to replicate and become stronger, which can make treatment much tougher when the diagnosis does finally occur. It can also lead to permanent liver damage that could have been avoided had testing been requested and completed earlier. The best way to avoid this problem is to be tested if you have ever been at risk, and once you receive the results, to protect yourself while engaging in behaviors that may lead to exposure to hepatitis C.
How can I protect myself?
The Center for Disease Control recommends that every baby boomer get tested at least once. Those who are not currently at risk may never need another test, if this first test is negative. Those who may be at risk should continue to be screened regularly for a hepatitis C infection.
Although blood interactions in medical settings may have previously exposed you to this virus, current blood transfusion screenings and hospital protocols have virtually eliminated prior risks related to medical care. There is no reason to fear or reject future blood interactions in a medical care facility.
The test for hepatitis C is quick and can be performed in any physician’s office, as well as in some mobile and walk-in clinics. The test is typically covered by health insurances, though treatment coverage costs may vary, based on the severity of the illness. This is why it is important to be tested as soon as possible, in order to treat any symptoms of the virus quickly, before they are able to cause long-term or permanent damage.
Some baby boomers feel nervous or uncomfortable making an appointment to be tested for hepatitis C. There is no need to feel this way. If you are concerned, you can always make an appointment for general reasons and request to be tested when you speak with your doctor in person. If you remain concerned based on your personal history and/or your test results, let your care provider know your concerns and they can either provide you with guidance personally, or they can help connect you to an organization that can assist you.1-6