Baby boomers at elevated hepatitis C risk

Feb. 21, 2012 at 7:52 PM
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ATLANTA, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- An estimated 3.2 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, and two-thirds of that number are baby boomers born between 1945 and 1964, researchers say.

Dr. John Ward, director of the division of viral hepatitis at the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, said more Americans die from hepatitis C each year than from HIV-related causes, WebMD reported.

Both HIV and hepatitis C are spread by contaminated blood -- through shared needles used with drugs -- or sexually transmitted, Ward said.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found 1-in-33 baby boomers have hepatitis C, although at least half don't know it and many find out decades after exposure.

Routine blood tests could uncover liver damage caused by the virus in time, but doctors often don't ask patients about possible risk factors and many patients don't want to talk about risk factors either, Ward said.

Baby boomers are more at risk for hepatitis because there was more injectable drug use from the 1960s to the 1980s than today, and screening blood donors for hepatitis C didn't begin until 1989, so it seems reasonable that those in the baby boomer age group should talk to their doctor about hepatitis C, Ward said.

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