What do rocker Steven Tyler and country singer Naomi Judd have in common? They both have hepatitis C. They, like 2 million of their fellow baby boomers, were infected with this virus that causes chronic liver disease and, possibly, cancer.
Hepatitis C is a virus that is spread by contaminated blood and some body fluids. The Centers for Disease Control says that almost half of the people in the US who have the virus don't even know they're infected.
How is this possible? The virus sits quietly for 20 to 30 years causing damage typically before symptoms appear. These include liver failure, cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, kidney disease and even vague symptoms like extreme fatigue, easy bleeding or bruising and depression.
So who is at risk and should be checked for hepatitis C? These groups have the highest risk:
- Baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965)
- People with high-risk exposures (i.e., illegal drug use, home tattoos, multiple sexual partners)
- Those who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
A simple blood test can determine if you have hepatitis C. The one-time test looks for antibodies to the virus. Even if you don't fall into the high-risk categories, talk to your doctor about whether or not you should be screened.
What happens if you test positive for hepatitis C? The good news is, there's a cure! New medications give most patients a complete cure with eight to 12 weeks of well-tolerated treatment.
Before treatment, your doctor will test your liver function and check to see if you have other conditions, such as HIV.