December 8, 2013

Editorial: Say yes to hep C test

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.

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