A hidden killer may be waiting to strike baby boomers.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that can lurk in your body without symptoms. For some people, it can be a serious illness that causes cirrhosis or fatal liver cancer.
And baby boomers are a prime target.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 75 percent of hepatitis C infections and around 73 percent of deaths related to that disease occur in people born between 1945 and 1965.
Reports suggest that 150,000 to 200,000 people in New York state have hepatitis C. Nationwide, around 3 million adults are infected with the virus.
But the CDC says 45 to 85 percent of people living with the disease don’t know it.
That’s why New York state recently moved to make testing more readily available.
A new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, will require hospitals, doctors, clinics and other health-service providers to offer testing for the virus to all patients born between 1945 and 1965.
“Hepatitis C is a debilitating and potentially fatal disease that disproportionately affects the baby-boomer generation in New York and nationwide,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said when he signed the legislation.
“This new law will help fight hepatitis C and keep New Yorkers safe by providing testing to those most likely to have this virus whenever they visit a medical facility.”
It’s smart to get tested because many people who are carrying the virus can be helped, thanks to advances in treatment in recent years. Two new drugs awaiting approval may even cure the disease.
The CDC is encouraging laws like the one passed in New York because if people with hepatitis find out they have the virus, they can get treatment and take steps to prevent transmission.
No one really knows why baby boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C.
“Most boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s, when rates of hepatitis C were the highest,” the CDC says on its website.
“Since people with hepatitis C can live for decades without symptoms, many baby boomers are unknowingly living with an infection they got many years ago.
“Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Many baby boomers could have gotten infected from contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992 and universal precautions were adopted.
“Others may have become infected from injecting drugs, even if only once in the past. Still, many baby boomers do not know how or when they were infected.”
Some doctors around the North Country are already asking patients whether they want to get tested. The question will likely come as a surprise to people who aren’t aware of the new law.
If you are a baby boomer, the smartest decision is to get the blood test. It will either clear concerns or get you started on treatment before any potentially deadly damage is done.