The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 75 percent of those who are infected with hepatitis C were born from 1945 through 1965. People who were born in those years are called baby boomers, and they are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than the general population. (Although it is worth noting that the rising prevalence of hepatitis C in teens and young adults is creating a second wave of infections.)
I am a baby boomer. I acquired hepatitis C via a blood transfusion in 1988. Although I am now cured, I am surrounded by friends and peers who have or may have hepatitis C. Two family members have been diagnosed with it; one is now cured too.
Here is the CDC’s explanation for why baby boomers have high rates of hepatitis C:
“…(the reason) is not completely understood. Most boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of hepatitis C were the highest. 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.
Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Many baby boomers could have gotten infected from contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply in 1992 and universal precautions were adopted. Others may have become infected from injecting drugs, even if only once in the past. Still, many baby boomers do not know how or when they were infected.”
The aging of people with hepatitis C is a huge problem. This virus may remain silent for decades, but as we age, so do our immune systems. We may have been chugging along with minimal liver damage, but are suddenly hit with cirrhosis.
A recent presentation (Predictors of Inpatient Mortality and Resource Utilization of Elderly Patients with Chronic Hepatitis C in the United States) by Winnie Suen and colleagues at Digestive Disease Week 2015 confirmed this cause for concern. Chronic hepatitis C infection is a major cause of illness and death, and places a huge burden on our medical system.
The way around this is to screen baby boomers for hepatitis C, and treat those who have it. The newest hepatitis C treatments are tolerable. Lower risk of side effects means that all adults can be treated, regardless of age.
Identifying and treating baby boomers can be life restoring. Imagine a life where the fear of cirrhosis is lifted. Heck, that would free us up to listen to more Led Zeppelin.