If you’re a baby boomer, you may be watching your weight and visiting the gym regularly to stay fit. However, there could be an important health issue you’re overlooking. Your risk of contracting hepatitis C is five time higher than the general population if you were born between 1946 and 1965.
In fact, an estimated 80% of patients with hepatitis C belong to the baby boomer generation. Yet, only 13% of this group have been tested as of 2015.
Hepatitis C can have serious complications, including liver cancer and cirrhosis, but it is manageable.
Find out whether you’re at risk and what you can do about it.
- Forget the stigma. Public health experts now know that the higher rates of infection for boomers is due to medical procedures rather than any risky behavior associated with drugs or sex. The main cause is the reuse of metal and glass syringes before disposable syringes became common around 1950.
- Understand other causes. Any exchange of blood products can spread hepatitis C. That may include tattoos, piercings, and manicures, as well as sharing needles. Unprotected sex is also considered a low risk.
- Look for symptoms. You may be unaware that you have hepatitis C because there are often no symptoms. Signs you can look for are stomach pain, fatigue, and jaundice, which makes your eyes and skin look yellow.
- Remain hopeful. The prognosis for hepatitis C has come a long way. Treatment used to have a 6% cure rate and require 3 injections a week for almost a year. Today, the cure rate is close to 90%, and you usually only need to take a daily pill for about 3 months.
- Schedule a screening. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all men and women of the baby boomer generation get tested for hepatitis C. It’s a simple blood test, and it’s covered by most insurance plans.
- Protect your privacy. If you’d prefer to skip a doctor’s visit for any reason, there are other places to go. Many pharmacies and even some retailers like Target have labs and clinics that perform screenings.
- Discuss treatment. If you discover that you have hepatitis C, your doctor can explain your options. There is no vaccine, but there are several once-daily drug treatments available for patients who don’t have cirrhosis.
- Seek support. It’s easier to cope with any chronic illness when you can rely on your family and friends for encouragement and assistance. Be prepared to talk with them about the facts. Let them know that the risk of transmission is very low, but they may want to get tested if they have any concerns.
- Change your diet. Healthy eating can give you more energy and strength. In addition to consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, limiting saturated fats can take some strain off your liver. It’s also important to avoid excessive amounts of iron because your body will be less effective at releasing it.
- Avoid alcohol. Because hepatitis C is a liver infection, it’s safer to avoid any alcohol. Even moderate drinking raises the risk of cirrhosis.
- Think positive. Your mindset plays a big part in your physical health, including living with hepatitis C. Talk with your doctor about any issues, including trouble sleeping. You may also want to find a support group where you can talk about your experiences.
Getting tested for hepatitis C is simple and could save your life. Even if the results are positive, prompt and appropriate treatment gives you an excellent chance for being cured or managing the symptoms.