Malcolm Thaler, MD

Baby Boomers and Hepatitis C

Baby Boomers Hepatitis C

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta have issued a new recommendation that all people born in the US between 1945 and 1965 be screened at least once for hepatitis C infection. Previous guidelines recommended screening only people who were at special risk. Why the change of heart?

Consider the following:

  • Between 3 and 4 million Americans have hepatitis C
  • Because most people experience no symptoms until late in the infection, they don’t even know they’re infected
  • 75% of people infected are baby boomers
  • The number of deaths from the disease is increasing, but new treatments offer hope for a complete cure in 75% of patients
  • Screening is expected to diagnose another 800,000 infected people and may save more than 120,000 lives

What is hepatitis C and how does it spread?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that primarily affects the liver, causing chronic liver disease, liver failure, and liver cancer. It’s the leading reason for liver transplantation in the US. The virus can spread in several ways:

  • Through a contaminated needle
  • From a blood transfusion (although this risk has plummeted now that the blood supply is now thoroughly screened)
  • Perinatally, from an infected mother to her fetus
  • Sexually, via unprotected intercourse

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

Some people may develop nonspecific, flu-like symptoms when they first acquire the virus, but most will have no symptoms at all. When this occurs, hepatitis C can then smolder quietly for years until a patient presents symptoms of advanced liver disease.

What is the screening process?

Screening for hepatitis C is easy; it’s a simple blood test. The laboratory will screen your blood for antibodies to the hepatitis C virus. If none are found, you’re in the clear. If antibodies are present, however, then additional blood tests will be necessary. Your primary care provider will then refer you to the proper specialist for the latest and most effective care.

So, if you’re a baby boomer, ask your health care provider to order a hepatitis C antibody test.  You may save your own life, and protect those you love most as well.

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  1. Brenda says:

    I would like to take issue with the following. “People continue to become infected with hepatitis C in San Francisco, primarily through injecting drugs… but increasingly through sexual contact as well”. Which seems to infer that that chances of HCV infection through sex is equivalent in some way to transmission through blood to blood contact of IV users. I think this is misleading and confuses the public about their actual risk of contracting HCV.HCV is not an STD and very few people contract HCV through sex. Some studies have tested the sexual partners of hepatitis C patients to see whether they too are HCV-positive. Such studies have produced results ranging from 0 percent to 6 percent positivity- with approximately 2 percent being the average.Excluding people that are sharing blood as during some forms of “hard sex”, sex is a very poor means of transmitting the virus.From the CDC:”Can Hepatitis C be spread through sexual contact?Yes, but the risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed to be low. The risk increases for those who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV. More research is needed to better understand how and when Hepatitis C can be spread through sexual contact”.”Several studies of risk factors in sexual activity found rates of infection between 1 and 18% for homosexually active individuals, 1 to 10% among heterosexually active individuals, and 1 to 12% among female prostitutes, with the primary risk factors for infection being greater numbers of partners, unprotected sex, simultaneous infection with other STD’s, and traumatic sexual activity”. The most efficient mode of transmission is via blood-to-blood. This means that blood from an infected person gets into the bloodstream of another person. IE Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs where blood is exchanged.From the CDC:Within only six months to a year after beginning intravenous drug use, 50-80 percent of drug users test positive for the hepatitis C antibody. I.V. drug users account for about 30-40% of all identified cases, and about 50 percent of all new cases of the disease. I believe that SF should concentrate its limited resources focusing on the IV drug using community as this is where the chances of spreading HCV is the highest.Regards,Howard Crawford

  2. Diana ONeill, FNP says:

    My information is:
    Most boomers were never IV drug users. Many, however, have shared straws or crisp (sharp) new rolled up bills, when they snorted coke; once, twice, 50 x ?
    And THIS is the boomers’ most likely mode of infection; blood on a straw, scraping their already inflammed, puffy, easy to scratch open, nasal mucosa, on the second or third go round…

    The other major mode is people who got jailhouse, or home tattoos.

    My clinical experience, of 29 years as an NP, also attests to these 2 modes of transmission being the most likely culprits. l’ve worked in NYC, LI, and Westchester. ..and have met thousands of boomers with money for blow, (who did not keep a personal straw), back in their 20′s and 30′s.

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