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Baby Boomers Urged to Get Hepatitis C Test

If you are a baby boomer–born between 1945 and 1965–add a hepatitis C screening to the list of tests you should get from your doctor. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended that all baby boomers get a one-time test for hepatitis C, a potentially fatal viral disease that can lead to liver cancer and liver failure. It is the principal cause of death from liver disease and the leading cause of liver transplantation.

The CDC estimates that more than 2 million baby boomers have hepatitis C– that equates to 75 percent of the 3.2 million Americans currently living with the virus. Baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected than other adults.

More than 15,000 Americans die each year from illnesses related to hepatitis C, such as cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, and liver cancer. Deaths have been rising over the last 10 years and are projected to increase significantly in the future.

“One reason it is important to diagnose hepatitis C as soon as possible is because the body’s own response effort to the presence of the virus creates inflammation of the liver that can be debilitating,” says Hisham ElGenaidi, MD, Medical Director of Hepatology at Lourdes Medical Associates who practices at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden. “Chronic inflammation typically leads to cirrhosis, which significantly diminishes liver function. Cirrhosis is not reversible. The objective of treating hepatitis C is to prevent this stage.”

Hepatitis C is spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. People at risk include those who share needles to inject drugs, recipients of a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 and anyone getting a tattoo or body piercing.

Health officials believe that thousands of baby boomers may have been infected through blood transfusions and drug use, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet studies have found that many baby boomers do not perceive themselves at risk and therefore, do not get tested until it is too late.

Contributing to the testing challenge is the lack of symptoms present in those with hepatitis C. Most people experience no symptoms until the virus causes liver damage, which can take up to 10 or more years to occur.

“Hepatitis C is a silent killer,” says Dr. ElGenaidi. “Like others with hepatitis C, many baby boomers don’t know they are infected because the virus can damage the liver for years with few, if any, noticeable symptoms. Identifying baby boomers with these hidden infections will allow more people to receive treatment before they have life-threatening liver disease.”

The CDC guidelines, for now, call for hepatitis C testing only for individuals with certain known risk factors such as a blood transfusion before 1992 or admitted recreational intravenous drug use. The proposed recommendation, which could be enacted later this year, would suggest that all of the more than 70 million baby boomers get tested.

Following the new guidelines could identify 800,000 people living with hepatitis C and save more than 120,000 lives, according to the CDC. If caught early, hepatitis can be treated successfully, as hepatitis C is a potentially curable disease.

“A number of new medicines are offering hope to patients who were just diagnosed and those who have failed other treatments,” adds Dr. ElGenaidi. “If we can clear the body of the virus, we can save livers and ultimately, lives.”

To learn more, call 1-888-568-7337 or visit www.lourdesnet.org.

To view a clip of Dr. ElGenaidi discussing the importance getting tested for Hepatitis C, click the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmZfkNGVEuo.

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For media inquiries, please contact Lauren Markin at Markinl@lourdesnet.org or (856) 705-1375.

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