Living Well: Hepatitis C prevalent among baby boomers
Mayo Clinic tests available through TMH
TMH uses Mayo Clinic to run hepatitis C tests
The Memorial Hospital Lab partners with the Mayo Clinic to provide specialty tests, such as hepatitis C. TMH takes samples locally and sends them to The Mayo Clinic with results in just a few days.
TMH Lab hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
It’s hard to accept that one decision you made when you were 17 or 18 could affect your health and quality of life today. But that’s what many baby boomers are finding out. Maybe back in college or high school, they snorted or injected a drug once or twice, and today they have hepatitis C, a nasty virus that is hard to get rid of and can lead to liver cancer.
Health officials are calling the rise in hep C cases an epidemic with an estimated 4 million Americans having the disease, some who don’t even know it yet. Two out of every three cases of hep C occur in baby boomers — people born between 1945 and 1965. The 1960s and 70s were a prime time for contracting the virus, which can take years to worsen. It has been said that one in 33 baby boomers have hep C.
Of those, about a third have no idea or recollection of how they contracted it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thinks it is wise for baby boomers to get tested, as symptoms can be unspecific and confused with other ailments. Symptoms include fatigue, upset stomach, loss of appetite, nausea and jaundice (yellow eyes, skin and dark urine). Hep C has been called a silent epidemic because symptoms can take decades to surface.
“We have seen an increase in hep C testing at the local level,” said Kristine Cooper, The Memorial Hospital’s lab director.
Hep C is most commonly contracted by experimenting with illicit drugs, either through snorting or injecting with a needle. It is not passed by kissing, coughing or sharing glasses but can be contracted by sharing razors. People who received a blood transfusion before 1992, or who work in health care, are also at risk for the virus. It can be spread through sex and from mother to baby at birth. Caution is advised when getting a tattoo or body piercing.
A common way to discover hep C is when giving blood. Hep C is diagnosed through a simple blood test. If you are concerned, know that The Memorial Hospital Lab can run a hep C test seven days per week.
“We send our hep C tests to the Mayo Clinic, and patients see results in one to two days,” Cooper said.
Untreated, hep C can lead to liver cancer, which is on the increase while other cancer deaths have leveled or declined in recent years. Hep C is a top reason for liver transplants.
The good news is that newer drugs have been developed to knock down, and sometimes even eliminate, the virus. The drugs telaprevir and boceprevir are showing much higher rates of clearing the virus than past drugs: 75 to 80 percent versus 35 to 40 percent for older drugs. While treatment can be grueling and often lasts a year with some side effects, people are being cured of hep C.
If you think you might be at risk, consider getting tested for hep C.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.