May is the month we raise awareness about hepatitis C and other viral hepatitides. Between 3.5 and 5.3 million Americans have chronic viral hepatitis; more than 2.7 million of these are non-institutionalized Americans. We don’t have accurate data about the prevalence of hepatitis C among those who are homeless, in prison, jail, the military, hospitals and other institutions, but some experts estimate the total to be 5 million or more. The bottom line is this: There are a lot of people in the U.S. with hepatitis C. Worldwide, there are 150-170 million people with this virus, leading to increased incidences of progressive liver disease, liver failure, liver cancer, and death.

The sheer numbers of hepatitis C-infected people is not our biggest problem. Of greater concern is the fact that as many as three out of four people with hepatitis C do not know they have it. In short, the majority of those with hepatitis C don't know that a potentially deadly virus is attacking them — a virus that claims more lives in the U.S. than HIV does.

People who aren’t aware that they have hepatitis C are at risk of infecting others. No diagnosis means no treatment. Diagnosis leads to choice, choice leads to action, and action leads to health.

Baby Boomers, those born in the years 1945–1965, account for approximately three fourths of all hepatitis C infections in the United States. One in 30 Baby Boomers is infected. Although Baby Boomers make up nearly one-quarter of the population, they suffer nearly three-quarters of the deaths from hepatitis C. If we do not intervene, there will be one million cases of cirrhosis just from hepatitis C in the next decade. This problem adds a huge burden to our healthcare dollars, which in the U.S. means an enormous Medicare bill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended one-time hepatitis C testing for all Baby Boomers. It is a great idea but one facing more obstacles than anticipated. For example:

  • Many doctors and patients have not heard about the screening recommendations.
  • Some think that the screening recommendations don't apply to them.
  • People assume that their doctors have tested them for hepatitis C – usually this is not the case.
  • Even worse, patients assume they were vaccinated for it – there is no vaccine.

If you think that these recommendations don’t apply to you, think again. Hepatitis C can live on a surface for up to 63 says. Hepatitis C was rampant in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and you may have been exposed. It’s not just how you lived — it is when you lived. The hepatitis C test is inexpensive, usually covered by health insurance. For a small price, you can get peace of mind or the chance at saving your life.

Take the quiz to test your knowledge of hepatitis C:

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