Have you been tested for hepatitus C virus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a strong message to all baby boomers: Get tested for hepatitis C.

We recently reported on preliminary recommendations from the health agency, which urged widespread testing for the infection among baby boomers. The CDC has now made it official, calling for all boomers — or people born from 1945 to 1965 — to be tested for hepatitis C.

Studies have shown that many boomers were infected with the virus decades ago, and not perceiving themselves to be at risk, were never tested. Currently more than 2 million boomers living in the United States are infected with hepatitis C, which accounts for more than 75 per cent of American adults living with the disease, according to the CDC.

“A one-time blood test for hepatitis C should be on every baby boomer’s medical checklist,” CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden said in a release. “The new recommendations can protect the health of an entire generation of Americans and save thousands of lives.”

Hepatitis C causes serious liver diseases — including liver cancer — and is the leading cause of liver transplants in the US and Canada. Newly available therapies and treatments can cure up to 75 per cent of infections and prevent deadly liver diseases.

The virus is most commonly spread through sharing needles to inject drugs, but some experts say you can also get it through tattooing, body piercing and snorting drugs like cocaine (via shared rolled-up dollar bills, for example). Prior to widespread screening of blood donations in 1992, it was also spread through blood transfusions. Other ways to pick up the virus include the sharing of razors, nail clippers and toothbrushes, and in rare instances, through unprotected sex.

In Canada, it is estimated that between 210,000 and 275,000 people are currently infected with hepatitis C, of whom only 30 per cent know they have it, according to Health Canada. Worldwide, 150 million people are chronically infected, and the World Health Organization reports that more than 350,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases.

There is currently no vaccine to protect against the virus.

General symptoms of infection include jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes), loss of appetite, stomach pain, dark urine and fatigue. However, in the vast majority (70 – 80 per cent) of cases, people infected with the hepatitis C virus will show no signs or symptoms.

For more information on hepatitis C visit Health Canada’s fact sheet on the virus or
CDC: Frequently Asked Questions about hepatitis C

Background Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Patrick Heagney

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