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May 31, 2018

Hepatitis C and Older Adults: Why You Need to Get Tested

You’ve probably seen them — the television commercials and advertisements urging Baby Boomers to get tested for hepatitis C. While you might think of the viral infection is something only IV drug users can contract, if you were born between 1945 and 1965 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends you get tested.

The truth is, older adults make up the majority of those who are infected with hepatitis C, and about 80 percent of them don’t know they’re infected. You’re also five times more likely to have the viral infection than your younger counterparts, the CDC says. That’s because, if you have hepatitis C, you were most likely to have contracted it sometime during the 1960s through 1980s when its transmission was the highest. This time period is at highest risk because it was before universal infection controls and procedures were adopted for medical equipment.

Why hepatitis C is so dangerous

For many infected with hepatitis C, they show no symptoms. Without treatment, though, it can progress to liver damage, cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Symptoms and transmission of hepatitis C

Because many infected people don’t show symptoms, they only know they have the viral infection once it has advanced to something more serious like liver damage or liver cancer. The CDC says when symptoms do appear, they are often indicative of advanced liver disease and can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine and/or pale colored stools

The spread of hepatitis C can happen in various ways. Before widespread screening of the blood supply was adopted in 1992, many transmissions happened via blood transfusions or organ transplants. You could also be at risk if you:

  • Took clotting products before 1987
  • Used needles to inject drugs
  • Got a tattoo or piercing from an unlicensed facility
  • Had sex with an infected person

Hepatitis C testing and treatment

Even if you don’t have any of the above risk factors, you may still benefit from a test. (If you’re not sure if you should get tested, talk to your doctor and take this assessment from CDC.) Hepatitis C is diagnosed through a blood test or series of blood tests. When you begin the testing process, you’ll typically start with a test to see if you’ve developed antibodies to the virus. If you have, you’ll have a second test to see if hepatitis C is still present in your blood.

If you do have hepatitis C, there are several antiviral medications available.

Talk to your doctor if you have questions about your hepatitis C risks or testing.

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