This blog also appears on Everyday Health.
“With data collection, ‘the sooner the better’ is always the best answer.” – Marissa Mayer
Two weeks ago I began this blog with basic hepatitis C information. Building on these basics, this week I discuss who should be tested for hepatitis C. If you are tempted to skip this blog, I urge you to read it anyway. The majority of people with hepatitis C do not know they are living with a potentially infectious and life-threatening virus. Since millions of people in the U.S. have hepatitis C, you or someone you know may have it.
Who should get tested for hepatitis C?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend hepatitis C testing for the following people:
- Those born from 1945 through 1965
- Anyone who has ever injected illegal drugs, even just once
- Recipients of clotting factors made before 1987
- Those who received transfused blood or solid organ transplantation before July 1992
- Anyone with known exposures to hepatitis C, such as health care workers after needlesticks involving hepatitis C-positive blood
- Those who received long-term hemodialysis treatment
- Everyone with HIV infection
- Patients with signs or symptoms of liver disease, such as fatigue or elevated liver tests
- Children born to hepatitis C-positive mothers
Why should Baby Boomers be tested?
The largest birth rate occurred from 1945 through 1965, a group known as Baby Boomers. The world was changing rapidly during our teens and early adulthood. Sex, drugs, and Vietnam defined this generation, and with it came hepatitis C, the most common blood-borne virus in the U.S. The majority of people with hepatitis C are Baby Boomers.
Of course, not everyone used drugs or experimented with multiple sex partners during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, but even those who didn’t need to be tested for hepatitis C. The virus was so common, that in some cases it was transmitted in ways that we still don’t fully understand. People with no obvious risk factors may have acquired hepatitis C in a healthcare setting. Think about what it was like going to the dentist or doctor before HIV changed the way we protected patients, and you get the idea.
If you are tempted to dismiss this possibility as being too remote, think again. A recent paper published by Yale researchers showed that hepatitis C can live on surfaces for up to six weeks and still be potentially infectious.
The bottom line is that if you are a Baby Boomer and don’t feel you need to be tested, do it anyway. I know many people who have hepatitis C but have no idea of how they got it. I am fortunate that I know that I was infected by a contaminated blood transfusion. However, fortune ran out years later when a lab technician who drew my blood was arrested for reusing needles for blood draws. Tragically, she exposed thousands of patients to HIV and viral hepatitis. I only hope that she didn’t reuse the same needle that was used to draw my blood. Cases like this exist more frequently than people realize.
In my next blog, I will discuss the lab tests used to diagnose hepatitis C. In the meantime, if you are a Baby Boomer or have any hepatitis C risk factors, talk to your doctor about testing.
Wishing you health and peace of mind,