Hepatitis Rates Higher in Baby Boomers

By Sauber, Jena | St. Joseph News-Press, May 16, 2017 | Go to article overview

Hepatitis Rates Higher in Baby Boomers


Sauber, Jena, St. Joseph News-Press


Although vaccines are largely available now, many people at an increased risk for hepatitis could be infected with the virus and not know, leading to an increased chance of liver damage and other health complications.

“You can carry it in your body for a long time and not know you have it,” says Sarah Knorr, family nurse practitioner with Northwest Health Services. “It can be doing damage to your liver. Some of the things that can happen are cirrhosis of the liver, and in severe cases, it can cause liver cancer.”

Hepatitis is thought to be responsible for about 2.7 percent of deaths worldwide, especially hepatitis B and hepatitis C. As much as 78 percent of liver cancers worldwide are related to chronic infections with hepatitis B and C.

Vaccinations against hepatitis A and hepatitis B exist, and treatment for hepatitis C is currently about 95 percent effective, but testing is vital, Knorr says. May is Hepatitis Awareness Month.

“There’s not a vaccine for hepatitis C,” Knorr says, “and that is something that been advertised a lot because it’s important especially for baby boomers to get tested for hepatitis C. They, in particular, need to have a one-time check.”

Risk factors

Baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965, are at a five times greater risk for having hepatitis C than other age groups. An American Journal of Preventative Medicine report found that 13.8 percent of boomers had been tested by 2015, just two years after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made the recommendation.

“It’s not understood exactly, but there are several reasons,” Knorr says of the increased risk. “Equipment maybe wasn’t cleaned as well back then because we didn’t know. There wasn’t as much use of standard precautions as far as wearing gloves or being more careful around bodily fluids.”

A lack of knowledge before the virus was identified in 1989 lead to infections through medical procedures and transfusions before screening techniques were developed. Shared drug needles and, to a lesser extent, sexual transmission, also plays a role in the spread of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Age, medical history, sexually transmitted diseases, drug use, international travel and other factors can help determine a person’s risk for hepatitis. A primary-care provider can determine if and when testing is appropriate, Knorr, who works with hepatitis testing and treatment, says. …

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