May 19th is National Hepatitis Testing Day and I want to make you aware of how important it is for all Baby Boomers to get tested as soon as possible. This is near and dear to my heart. Less than 2 years ago, my youngest brother passed away because of Hepatitis C. He was 1 week short of his 50th birthday.
Unfortunately, Hepatitis C has a stigma attached to it. People associate it with shooting up drugs, HIV infection or other factors that do not apply to them. Even doctors are reticent to recommend testing. However, the consequences of not knowing you have the disease can be devastating.
I spoke to Dr. Rick Pesano, VP of Research and Development at Quest Diagnostics as well as Robin Roth, a woman who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C during a routine blood test. They both gave me insight into the importance of testing.
Robin Roth – Hepatitis C survivor
Robin is a health educator who had heard about hepatitis C so she asked to be tested on a routine doctor’s visit, even though she didn’t have any symptoms. She had the test and was surprised to learn she tested positive for Hepatitis C. At the time, her treatment was intense. She underwent weekly interferon therapy and pills for a year, which was the gold standard treatment at the time but had a long list of side effects.
Listen to her story in the video below.
Treatment now is much simpler and only requires a once-daily pill that has minimal side effects.
Robin is now disease free and has become a passionate activist to make sure Baby Boomers get tested.
So why should YOU get tested for Hepatitis C?
People born between 1945 – 1965 are 5 times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults, according to the CDC.
Below are some of the circumstances that have caused Baby Boomers to contract the Hepatitis C virus. Dr. Pesano strongly recommends not to point blame at anyone who has the disease. It was most likely not in their control. The virus can take decades to present itself so events that took place in the past need to be considered.
- Exposure to open blood – Testing is especially important for healthcare workers, law enforcement officers, military personal (Vietnam Vets) and anyone else who had blood exposure, especially pre 1990’s.
- Needle sticks
- Illicit drugs – either injected or inhaled
- Transfusions – Women may have been given transfusions during or after birth and were too busy with their babies to notice.
- Born to a mother with Hepatitis C.
- Organ transplant before 1992.
- Clotting factor before 1987
- A prison experience with others who used needles.
- Piercings – Where did you get your ears pierced? If you did it in a jewelry store, know that needle guns may have been reused or were not sanitary, especially during the 60’s and 70’s.
- Tattoos – Before tattoo parlors were regulated, needles may not have been reused but the ink bottles were. If you were tattooed in a foreign country, be especially diligent about being tested.
- Sexual transmission – the risk of contracting Hepatitis C during sex is much less than through blood but there is still some risk.
- Sharing razors. (like young girls used to do during slumber parties)
- Blood brothers and sisters – remember that practice?
Symptoms are hard to detect but look for:
- Bleeding or bruising easily.
- Poor appetite
- Jaundice – yellow eyes
- Weight loss
- Dark urine
(Some symptoms may be similar to menopause, anxiety, or fibromyalgia – Get tested to rule out Hepatitis C.)
The test itself
Hepatitis C is diagnosed through a simple blood test called the HCV antibody test that determines exposure. If it is positive, then a 2nd blood test (viral load) is done to see if the virus is present. If that test is positive a genotype test is done to see what type of Hep C you have. Once the virus is in an advanced stage, you may not see abnormalities in a liver function test.
There are four stages of Hepatitis C – F1, F2, F3. F4. If untreated, the virus will progress to cirrhosis of the liver and finally liver failure, which is what happened to my brother. One day he started vomiting blood and a week later he died.
There is a 5% transmission rate between an infected mother and a child.
If you are diagnosed with the disease it’s important to avoid drinking alcohol because it can cause cirrhosis of the liver.
Many members of the entertainment community like Naomi Judd have been diagnosed with Hep C and treated but so far, there have been few champions for the cause.
The Good News
Hepatitis C can now be cured easily with treatment if it is diagnosed in time. You will feel much better afterward.
Please, do yourself a favor and insist on being tested. Because May 19th is Hepatitis C testing day, why not make May the month you get tested? Look for health fairs in your area that offer the test.
For more information, please visit KnowAboutHepC.com