Ask the average American about hepatitis C, and there is a good chance you will get a blank or befuddled stare. It’s the sort of disease someone’s heard of, but cannot quite recall how it spreads or what it does. What’s worse, upwards of 3 million Americans—75 percent of whom are baby boomers—have the virus but do not know it. That’s because this population was likely infected in the 1970s and 1980s, amid high rates of hepatitis C infections, but may not be showing any symptoms—yet. The leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants, hepatitis C can become fatal if it progresses to liver disease.
In a telephone briefing last week, in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 to get tested for hepatitis C, the agency’s director, Thomas Frieden, realized that he, too, required screening. “As I’ve been conducting this briefing, it has occurred to me that I was born during that time period, and as far as I know, I have not been tested,” he said. He had his tonsils out as a boy, for example, referring to one of the many possible ways that someone could be exposed to the virus. Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood and has spread, for example, through blood transfusions and organ transplants that took place before 1992—which marked the begin of widespread screening of the blood supply—as well as through needles for injection drug use or tattoos, and even razors at a barbershop or nail salon.
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A huge part of the problem is the symptomless nature of hepatitis C. It can take 30 years for people to show any signs of the virus, and by then, it may be too late for effective treatment. If detected in time, however, promising new treatments can cure the disease. Hence, the CDC’s effort at “catching up our screening recommendations” to these medical advancements, Frieden says. The new, age-based guidelines build on the CDC’s current risk-based ones in the effort to “identify these silent infections” in as many as 800,000 Americans, Frieden says.
So what does this mean for you? And what can you expect, should you find out you are carrying the virus?
If you are between ages 47 to 67, see your primary care physician for a basic test, which is relatively affordable and typically covered by health insurance under routine medical care, states John Ward, director of CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis.
This test determines if you carry the antibody for hepatitis C, and if it comes back positive, it’s critical to take the next step—another test called HCV RNA to determine whether you are currently infected with the virus, states Andi Thomas, president of HealthPro Solutions, a non-profit that helps people with chronic disease.
“I am panicked about the drop-out rate,” she says, noting that widespread failure to follow through with the second test has stood in the way of proper care. While the new guidelines clarify the importance of the second test, it can be costly, she says. In response, her organization announced Tuesday a program to provide baby boomers with hepatitus C testing and counselling at a reduced price. Called Health-C, the project is a partnership among HealthPro, PersonaLabs, and The Support Partnership, a toll-free helpline (877-Help-4-HEP). “Without good social networking and good peer counselling and meeting other people who have been through what you have been through, it can be a lot to handle,” states Thomas, a former sufferer. Like so many others, she learned that she had the virus by accident—through testing in preparation for a medical procedure. She got the news from her physician by phone. “I was in a corporate lunchroom, huddled in the corner with my hand over the mouthpiece,” she says. Her doctor’s advice: “Just do not bleed on your kids.”
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Thomas, who was cured of the virus in 2004, states there is “still a long way to go” for primary care physicians and family practitioners to comprehend the need to screen patients and refer them to specialists for treatment. And part of the CDC’s new effort, a campaign called “Know More Hepatitis,” includes education and training with consumer and medical groups.
- CDC Urges Baby Boomers to Get tested for Hepatitis C
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- Most Hepatitis C Deaths In Baby Boomers, USA
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- Nail Salons, Barbershops, Implicated In Hepatitis Transmission Risk
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Submited at Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 at 8:15 am on Uncategorized by madison
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