The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate the number of people in the U.S. with chronic hepatitis C virus infection is 3.2 million. Other research places the figure closer to 5 million or more. The bottom line is this—there are a lot of people in the U.S. with hepatitis C. Worldwide, there are 150-170 million people with this virus.
The sheer numbers of hepatitis C-infected people is not our biggest problem. The greater concern is that as many as three out of four people with hepatitis C do not know they have it. In short, the majority of those with hepatitis C don’t know they harbor a potentially deadly virus—a virus that claims more lives in the U.S. than HIV does.
No diagnosis means patients aren’t aware that they risk infecting others. It may mean decreased quality of life. No diagnosis means no treatment. Diagnosis leads to choice, and choice leads to health. For instance, in the CDC’s efforts to gather better data, they learned that the majority of those who are hepatitis C antibody-positive admit to drinking an average of more than two drinks daily.
Baby Boomers, those born in the years 1945–1965 account for approximately three fourths of all hepatitis C infections in the United States. 1 in 30 Baby Boomers are infected. Although Baby Boomers make-up nearly ¼ of the population, they suffer nearly ¾ of the deaths from hepatitis C. If we do not intervene in the next decade there will be one million cases of cirrhosis just from hepatitis C. This problem adds a huge burden to our healthcare dollars, which in the U.S. means an enormous Medicare bill.
The CDC has recommended one-time testing for all Baby Boomers. It is a great idea but one facing more obstacles than anticipated. For example:
- Many doctors and patients have not heard the screening recommendations.
- Some think that the screening recommendations don’t apply to them.
- People assume that their doctors have tested them for hepatitis C – usually this is not the case.
- Even worse, patents assume they were vaccinated for it – there is no vaccine
Here is what you can do: encourage everyone born between 1945-1965 to be tested for hepatitis C. Ask them to encourage others. If someone says, “Why should I be tested? I don’t have any risk factors,” tell them, “It’s not how you lived—it is when you lived. Besides, aren’t you worth a $20 to $25 test?” That is a cheap price to pay for peace of mind.