SIMCOE, JULY 19, 2013 – Public health officials are encouraging local adults born between 1945 and 1965 – the baby boom generation – to get screened for the hepatitis C virus.
While anyone can get hepatitis C, baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected with the virus than other Canadians. The reason that baby boomers have high rates of hepatitis C is not completely understood. Most boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s, when rates of hepatitis C peaked.
“Many baby boomers could have gotten infected from contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992 and universal precautions were adopted,” said Tamara Robb, public health nurse with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s Infectious Disease Team. “Others may have become infected from injecting drugs, even if they only did it one time in the past.”
In 2012, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit had more than 40 confirmed hepatitis C cases. Of these cases, 27 per cent were males in the baby boomer age range, and 12 per cent were female baby boomers.
Hepatitis C is often referred to as a silent killer because it progresses without any indication of illness. Approximately 80 per cent of all infected individuals remain without symptoms for decades while hepatitis C quietly destroys the liver. The disease can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or failure, ultimately requiring a liver transplant.
“Since people with hepatitis C can live for decades without symptoms, many baby boomers are unknowingly living with an infection they got many years ago,” added Robb.
Unlike other types of hepatitis, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. However, treatment for hepatitis C is available, and early treatment can prevent liver damage.
Baby boomers, and any individual at risk for hepatitis C, should speak with their doctor about getting tested for hepatitis C. Initial screening for hepatitis C involves a simple and inexpensive blood test. This test will tell you if you have ever had contact with the hepatitis C virus in the past. If this initial test is positive, a second test is needed to tell if there is active virus in your body, how much is there, and what kind it is. People who test positive usually receive a course of antiviral medication over several months. Most people have no detectable virus following treatment.
To learn more about hepatitis C, visit the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s website at www.hnhu.org, or visitwww.hepcinfo.ca
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Public Health Nurse – Infectious Disease Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3251 at either 519.426.6170 or 905.318.6623