You might have seen the TV commercials stating that people born between 1945 and 1965 might have hepatitis C and not know it. These ads attempt to spur baby boomers to get tested for the disease, which affects one in 30 people in that age range.
There are three distinct types of hepatitis, a disease that affects the liver: hepatitis A, B and C. Each type is caused by a different virus.
Hepatitis C, the only type that has no vaccine, is usually spread through contact with infected blood. . Ways it can be contracted or spread include:
▪ Blood transfusions and organ transplants before 1992
▪ From mother to baby during childbirth
▪ Sex with an infected person
▪ Sharing needles, syringes or other equipment to inject drugs
▪ Needle-stick injuries in health care settings
▪ Sharing personal items from infected people that could have come into contact with their blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
▪ Getting a tattoo or piercing if infected tools are used
Don’t think hepatitis C only affects those who have led a risqué lifestyle. Baby boomers who don’t have a history of injection drug use or high-risk sexual practices might still have contracted the disease early in life, when doctors and hospitals used glass and metal syringes, which were washed and reused. Disposable syringes didn’t become the norm in medical settings until the decade between 1950 and 1960.
Also, keep in mind that our nation’s blood supply wasn’t routinely screened for hepatitis and other diseases until 1992.
Hepatitis C can linger in the body and slowly damage the liver for decades without noticeable symptoms. Left untreated, it causes liver disease 70 percent to 85 percent of the time and can trigger cirrhosis and liver cancer.
All is not gloom and doom when it comes to hepatitis C. New medications can effectively treat the disease with few side effects, and some cases can be cured. But first you must know if you have it. Ask your health care provider to test you. Most private insurance companies will pay for the one-time blood test.
Knowledge is power when it comes to your health. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and find out if you have hepatitis C.
Dr. W. Jeffrey Foxx is a family medicine physician with Family Practice Associates of Lexington.