Along with the many positive achievements of the Baby Boomer generation is a distinction they undoubtedly would rather not have – they hold an increased risk of having been infected with the Hepatitis C virus.
According to the CDC, Baby Boomers – those born between 1945 and 1965 – are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C compared to other generations. Anyone can contract Hepatitis C, but 75% of those infected are Baby Boomers.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease resulting from an infection with the Hepatitis C virus. It is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood. Over time, Hepatitis C can cause an array of very serious health problems. This can include liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death. It is considered to be a leading cause of liver cancer, and the number one leading cause of liver transplants.
Why Baby Boomers? It is not completely understood why this generation holds the highest rate for contracting Hepatitis C. One potential cause could be related to medical equipment used before universal precautions and infection control procedures were adopted. There was also a lack of blood screening before 1992, and it is believed that the majority of Baby Boomers were infected during the 1970’s and 1980’s. There is also the possibility that infection occurred through the use of needles and equipment used to prepare and inject drugs.
What makes Hepatitis C very tricky is that an infected person can live with the virus for decades, never experiencing any symptoms. The only way to know is to get tested with the Hepatitis C Antibody Test. This test searches a person for antibodies (chemicals released into the bloodstream when infected,) to the Hepatitis C virus. There are now treatments available to cure Hepatitis C, but it is important to get diagnosed as quickly as possible. This is why the CDC recommends anyone born between 1945-1965 get tested.
A non-reactive or negative test result means that you do not have Hepatitis C. However, if you have been exposed to the virus, a second test would be deemed necessary. The second result option is reactive or positive. This result shows that Hepatitis C antibodies have been found in the blood. Although there may be antibodies in the blood, it does not necessarily mean that the person is currently infected with Hepatitis C, but was at some point in time. This is due to the fact that once infected with the virus, antibodies will always remain in the blood.
In addition to being a baby boomer, working in the healthcare field may also put you at an increased risk of being exposed to the Hepatitis C virus.
“Health-care workers are especially at risk for Hepatitis C as they may be exposed to blood or bodily fluids from patients who are Hepatitis C positive. This could be from a needle stick, sharps injury such as a scalpel, splash on mucous membranes or splash on non-intact skin with blood or body fluid from a patient with Hepatitis C. We encourage employees to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B for this reason but there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. To protect themselves, employees are trained to follow universal precautions, carefully dispose of sharps, and utilize eye protection if there is a risk of blood or body fluid splashes. Employees are asked to report any blood or body fluid exposure incidents promptly to Employee Health Services so that they can be evaluated and if necessary referred for treatment,” said Margaret Coffey NP, Employee Health Services at Mather Hospital.