It is estimated that upwards of 4 million people in the United States could be infected with the hepatitis C virus, the leading cause of liver cancer and the vast majority may not even know they have the disease.
With this many people possibly infected, it is stunning to find that most of them are in the “Baby Boomer” generation. Though “baby boomers” comprise only an estimated 27 percent of the U.S. population, nearly three-quarters of those with hepatitis C are within this age group.
For this reason, the CDC is calling for increased testing of individuals at risk and of all those who are of the “Baby Boomer” generation, born from 1945 to 1965. Hepatitis C can be easily detected with a simple blood test.
These sobering statistics were presented recently in a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is most often spread though contact with infected blood or blood product. It was not until 1992 that widespread testing for HVC in the blood supply began and it is believed that this may be one of the reasons “Boomers” may have such a high infection rate. Anyone who received a blood transfusion prior to testing of the blood supply could have been exposed to the disease.
There is also the consideration that because of widespread drug use by many in the “baby boomer generation” that this could have led to the spread of the disease. But there is another factor sited in the report that has researchers concerned.
According to the authors of the report, the recommendation that testing be done comes from data that shows this age group has been exposed to HVC either through the blood supply or by life style choices. But the report then notes, “… many persons with HCV infection do not recall or report having any of these specific risk factors.”
It is this large group of infected individuals, 45 percent, that say they have never taken part in behaviors that could lead to exposure that concerns the researchers as, “HCV is an increasing cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States.”
Some of the forms of transmission noted are:
- Blood transfusion or blood products before July 1992
- Intravenous drug use
- Chronic hemodialysis
- Being born to an HCV-infected mother
- Intranasal drug use
- Acquiring a tattoo in an unregulated establishment
One area that seems to be nearly glossed over is transmission through sexual contact. Though HCV is in the words of the CDC, “not efficiently transmitted sexually”, there still seems to be a link that is confusing at best. And any link to the transmission between male homosexual partners also seems minor when compared to the transmission rate between heterosexual partners. What seems to be the contributing factor is the number of sexual encounters an individual has.
In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and referenced by the CDC report, it shows a direct link not between sexual preference, but between the number of sexual partners an individual has.
“Although HCV is inefficiently transmitted through sexual activity, the prevalence of HCV antibodies among persons who report having had ≥20 sex partners is 4.5 times greater compared with the general population,” the study reported.
For those meet the criteria of having had large numbers of sexual partners and that fall into the “baby boomer generation”, it seems to place HCV into the realm of being a sexually transmitted disease, yet at this point in time, it is not truly considered such.
The CDC offers an anonymous online risk assessment test that can give you an idea of where you stand with it comes to being exposed to Hepatitis C.
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