Hep C emerges from dormancy to hit baby boomers

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Newsweek‘s Sarah Kliff looked into hepatitis C, a virus which can be dormant for decades then emerge to cause liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. It affects between 2.7 million and 3.9 million Americans, two-thirds of them baby boomers.

The virus is transferred through contact with infected blood, typically through intravenous drug use or transplants or blood transfusions that occurred before 1992, the year when officials started screening blood for the disease. Because it can remain dormant for so long, many boomers who contracted the disease during their free and easy youth are just starting to show symptoms.

“Even though Boomers moved on with their lives, they could be living with an infection that happened many years ago,” says John W. Ward, division director for the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Viral Hepatitis. “Now, they’re aging into a period of their lives when Hepatitis C could become manifest through physical symptoms.” One study published last May estimates that, in the next 20 years, total medical costs for Hepatitis C patients will nearly triple, from $30 to $85 billion.

Many don’t even know they have the disease, and Kliff writes that general public awareness is lagging.

Despite affecting 1 percent of the population, hepatitis C remains a disease generally misunderstood by the general public with little in financial commitments from the federal government. The CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and Tuberculosis Prevention had a budget of almost $1 billion for 2008. Only 2 percent of that was allocated to hepatitis B and hepatitis C despite both viruses being five times more prevalent.

Because of the stigma associated with a virus often linked to drug use that causes symptoms (chronic liver disease) often associated with alcohol abuse, officials have found it tricky to convince now-affluent and settled boomers to come to terms with their wild past and acknowledge that they may have exposed themselves to the virus. To get past those barriers, officials have even considered comprehensive age-based screening requirements, Kliff writes.

The CDC is considering a blanket, age-based screening recommendation. “We’re launching studies to see if it’s feasible and makes sense,” says Ward, the CDC official. “Just like everyone over 50 should have a check for colon cancer, it might fit into an age-based checklist of preventative services.”

Related

From the Institute of Medicine: Hepatitis and Liver Cancer: A National Strategy for Prevention and Control of Hepatitis B and C (PDF)

4 thoughts on “Hep C emerges from dormancy to hit baby boomers

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  2. judy N

    Just found out my mom had hep c chirosis of the liver 2 weeks ago and she died not even 7 days later in the icu with multi organ failure, pneumonia, brain damage. She never drank AT ALL…had a blood transfusion when she was a teenager. 53 yrs old and she is dead. Never been diagnosed and been to her family doctor every month since she was being treated for depression.

  3. michael

    I am a male 54 years old, and visited the doctor to check on my blood work and low and behold i was told I had hep c. I was stunned as I just could not recall as to how I honestly contracted it. I had a blood transfusion ten years ago, but it was stated that blood back then was clean from hep c. It is in dormant stage with liver function very good, but I am not looking forward to getting sick. I wonder what my chances are with this disease rattling it chains down the road. OMG

  4. Joyce

    My heart goes out to anyone with hep c. I am 53 and a baby boomer. I was diagnosed with hep c in 1999. Dr said it was probably from drug use 30 years prior. It was a stupid mistake I made at 17. My viral load was over 1 million. I was petrified. After dr to dr I finally found one that said he would help me fight it. Went on interferon/ribiviron (not sure of correct spelling). We did double dosage on interferon for 12 months. It did have terrible side effects, lost my job and home. Facing my own mortality was scarey and it made my life living hell. Caused severe depression, anemia, weight loss, etc. Even hospitalized for side effects being severe. But….. I was cured in 12 months. My dr went thru hell for me. He is now my hero. I would do it again if it meant my life was in jeopardy. This is not to scare anyone – I am saying it is more than worth the fight. You or your loved one are worth it. I thank God over and over again for the strength to fight. Don’t give up out of fear and educate yourselves. There are even better drugs now to cure it. Find a good gastroenologist or hepatoligist and tell them you are ready to fight this thing. Life is with fighting for. I can sympathize but I want to encourage also. Thanks and God bless. A HCV survivor.

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