Hepatitis C and Baby-Boomers: Am I At risk?
What is Hep C?
Hepatitis C (Hep C) has been in the news a lot recently, but because it is not well understood, many remain unaware of their risk. Hep C is caused by a virus that is transmitted through blood. Hep C can lead to liver disease, liver cancer and liver failure.
Learn more about what Hep C does to the liver
Baby-Boomers and Hep C: Why are we at risk?
The majority of people with Hep C in the U.S. are Baby-Boomers: born between 1945 and 1965. Baby-Boomers may have been exposed to Hep C through:
blood transfusion before 1992
sharing injection drug use equipment (even once long ago)
other blood exposures such as using shared tattoo equipment or razors.
It's important to note that many people with Hep C do not know how or when they got Hep C.
I feel fine How can I be at risk for Hep C if I have no symptoms?
The majority of people with Hep C do not have signs or symptoms until late stages of disease. Common early signs and symptoms such as dark urine, fatigue and flu-like symptoms are easy to overlook. When the classic signs and symptoms of liver disease emerge, it can mean that liver disease has progressed.
It’s best to catch Hep C early.
The only way to know if you have Hep C is to get tested. Hep C testing is a two step process.
1. First, you need the Hep C antibody test. This test detects whether you have ever been exposed to Hep C. If the Hep C antibody test is positive, it means that you have had Hep C at some time in your life.
2. Up to 25% of people clear Hep C on their own during the first six months of infection, so if you test antibody positive, you need to get the Hep C RNA (sometimes called PCR) test to find out if you have Hep C infection now. If this test is positive, it means you have Hep C.
Is the Hep C test covered by health insurance?
Because of the high rates of Hep C amongst Bab-Boomers, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) have recommended a one time Hep C screening for all Baby-Boomers. As a result of this official recommendation, the Hep C screening is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most commercial health insurance plans. To learn more see the CDC Preventative Services Coverage Table and contact your health insurance plan.
Hep C can be treated and cured!
Knowing your Hep C status is important. If you know you have Hep C, you can get into care with a medical provider that specializes in Hep C care and treatment. And best of all, most people with Hep C can now be treated in less than three months with an all oral medication regimen with few side effects!
Learn more about Hep C Treatment
If you are a Baby-Boomer, born between 1945 and 1965, ask your doctor for the Hep C test at your next visit. Knowing your status gives you the opportunity to be treated and cured, which is an important step to protect your future health.
Nirah is a clinical social worker and public health professional who has been raising awareness about hepatitis C and liver health in NYC since 2007. She organizes the Hep Free NYC network in NYC.