Hepatitis C & Baby Boomers
What Is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver. Some drugs, diseases, toxins, and infections can cause hepatitis. Also, hepatitis refers to 3 types of viral infections that affect the liver. You may have heard of type A, B and C. Three different diseases cause each type. Hepatitis A does not become a chronic illness. It can improve without treatment. Type B and C can begin acutely, but remain in the body and result in long-term liver issues. While vaccines exist for A and B, there is not a vaccination for Hepatitis C.
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C can last a few weeks when mild, or become a chronic lifelong illness attacking the liver when severe. The disease is contagious, and results from a Hepatitis C virus infection. This virus usually spreads through blood contact. ‘Acute’ infections occur at first. This stage occurs within the first 6 months after exposure to the virus. When the virus remains in the body, it can lead to a long-term illness that results in serious liver problems. For example, cirrhosis and liver cancer can occur.
What Spreads Hepatitis C?
Today, the virus spreads mostly by sharing needles or other invasive devices common with drug use. However, before 1992, many believed the spread of the infection was due more to shoddy medical practices in hospitals. Blood transfusions were not screened. During the highest infection period – 1945 to 1965 – hospitals reused metal and glass syringes. These instruments are difficult to sterilize, which provides opportunity for infection to spread.
Other ways Hepatitis C spreads include:
- From an infected mother through birth (very rare)
- Sharing personal items that come into contact with blood (such as razors)
- Sexual contact
Hepatitis C & Baby Boomers
Eighty percent of all chronic hepatitis C cases in the US are baby boomers. Because of the standard of medical practices in the past, the disease is common among this generation. However, most infected persons do not realize they are even infected. When left untreated, the disease can result in serious health issues, and even death. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended all adults within the baby boomer generation take a one-time screening in 2013.
Stigma Surrounding Baby Boomers
Because today’s drug use is responsible for most new infections, many baby boomers feel stigmatized by having Hep C. One third of all injection drug users between 18 and 30 have the virus. This number jumps to 70-90 percent in older and former drug users. Baby boomers may be less likely to get tested and treated due to this stigma. The association with drugs also makes some non-drug users believe they are not at risk. Hepatits C is treatable, and 80-90 percent diagnosed survive.