Boomers Urged To Get Hep C Tests To Counter Rising Liver Disease Deaths
Hepatitis C deaths are on the rise, and the liver disease is the number one reason why so many people die waiting for a transplant. With the majority of those infected and dying between the ages of 45 and 64, federal health officials have plans in the works to get more baby boomers tested and treated before it is too late. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
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The blood-borne liver disease, Hepatitis C can go undetected for decades. Federal health officials say that is a huge part of the reason why two-thirds of the more than three million Americans infected and most at risk are baby boomers.
That was the case for Brian Graham, a 57-year-old New Yorker.
"For me it just came out of left field. I had no idea that there was even such a thing called Hep C and that so many people had it," says Graham.
The Centers for Disease Control is proposing a one-time blood test for anyone born between 1945 and 1965.
Some health professionals assert part of the reason many people might not think they need testing is because of the stigma attached to the most common risk factors of the day: needle sharing for injected drug use.
But there are a lot of other ways baby boomers may have been exposed.
"Often people were infected by blood transfusion because the virus was not known years ago. We called it [Hepatitis] Non-A, Non-B, and you couldn't test for it. It was only discovered in the early '90s and the testing wasn't that good," says Dr. Lewis Tepperman, the director of transplantation at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Certainly if you had a blood transfusion in the '60s or '70s, whatever surgery it was, you were at risk."
"Even manicures and pedicures are on the list of risks, as well as boxing and rugby. There might be some blood-to-blood exchange," says Dr. Douglas Dieterich, a professor of medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center. "That's why I think everyone should be tested and not worry about it."
Just as important as it is to get tested, a major message doctors want to get across is that while there was not as much hope in the past, treatments have improved greatly and more patients are getting cured than ever before.
Two new drugs on the market Incivek and Victrelis are boosting cure rates up to 80 percent. Previous treatments had a success rate of 40 percent or less.
Graham was finally cured with Incivek. As the federal government considers if it will implement routine testing for everyone in his age group, Graham's advice is to do it anyway.
"You have everything to gain and nothing to lose," he says.