Many individuals, myself included, are familiar with two main kinds of Hepatitis: A and B. However, I’ve been coming across more and more information regarding a Hepatitis C outbreak. More and more cases of this viral infection are popping up across the country. During the past few weeks, I’ve seen T.V. commercials, news articles, and flyers in doctors’ offices encouraging people to get screened for Hepatitis C, especially the Baby Boomer Generation. My first question was, “what’s causing this rise in Hepatitis C cases?” Well, there are a few reasons behind the recent Hepatitis C outbreak. Below, we’ll outline what exactly Hep C is, who’s at risk, and what’s causing it to spike. In addition, we’ll shed some light on a few ways doctors can encourage their patients to get screened.
What is Hepatitis C?
Like the other forms of Hepatitis, the Hep C Virus (HCV) is an infection of the liver, but it’s much less well-known. In fact, it’s almost been forgotten about. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 there were more Hepatitis C infections in the United States than Hep A and B combined. Perhaps this is due to the fact that HCV is a silent disease, and most people don’t know that they have it until they develop liver damage, cirrhosis, or even liver cancer. Worse yet, symptoms can take years, even decades, to show. Last year, the CDC reported that the number of new Hepatitis C infections has nearly tripled in the last five years. The good news is, HCV itself isn’t lethal, and it’s relatively easy to treat. Still, it’s important for individuals to get screened as soon as possible.
What’s Causing the Hepatitis C Outbreak, and Who’s at Risk?
Baby Boomers, people born between 1945 and 1965, are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C than others. Why? Well, there are a few reasons. HepCHope.com outlines the four main reasons that baby boomers are more at risk:
- Hepatitis C wasn’t discovered until 1989
- Many Baby Boomers were infected in the 1970s-80s when infection control standards were not what they are today
- Since symptoms can take years to show, many Baby Boomers are just now realizing that they have Hep C
- Blood transfusions were not screened for Hep C until 1992
If you, your patients, or other people you know are part of the Baby Boomer Generation, encourage them to get screened right away. However, recent studies show that the infection is on the rise in another age group – those between 20 and 29. For these young adults, drug use, opioids especially, is to blame for the emergence of HCV. In the younger generation, “the disease is transmitted through infected blood as a result of sharing needles to inject drugs or even accidental needle sticks during drug use,” Dr. William Carey of Cleveland Clinic says. Even for former or one-time drug users, the risk for HCV is still there.
What Should Doctors Do?
As a doctor, it’s important to inform your patients, especially those at a higher risk, of this infection. In particular, physicians who specialize in addiction medicine and work directly with drug users should be highly alert. Still, any doctor who works with Baby Boomers or drug users should promote testing for Hepatitis C. The test itself is an easy blood test, and it’s covered by most insurance plans. If you have a patient who was born between 1945-1965 or has used drug injection equipment, recommend they get tested. Even if they aren’t showing symptoms, screening is key. The earlier the infection is detected, the better. Fortunately, if detected early enough, Hep C is easy to treat. There are a few oral products used for treating HCV, and they are 95% effective, according to Dr. Carey of Cleveland Clinic.
Be sure to inform patients of Hepatitis C screening sooner rather than later, especially if they are part of the groups at risk. Have any additional insight on the Hepatitis C outbreak? Share your thoughts in the comments below!