If you’re a member of the baby boomer generation you should be screened for hepatitis C. A new Pennsylvania law will significantly boost hepatitis C screening for people born between 1945 and 1965. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that hepatitis C, a contagious liver disease that is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants, is most prevalent among baby boomers because the nation’s blood supply wasn’t screened until 1992. Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from an infected person enters the blood of someone who is not infected.
The new law brings Pennsylvania into compliance with the CDC’s 2012 guidelines recommending baby boomers get tested. Hepatitis C is one of the more common blood-borne infections in the United States, with estimated 4 million individuals infected — of those, only half have been diagnosed. Similar legislation also has been enacted in NewYork, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Colorado.
“This new law requires individuals born between 1945 and 1965, the baby boomer generation, to be offered hepatitis C testing when receiving health services as an inpatient in a hospital or when receiving primary care services in an outpatient department of a hospital, health care facility or physician’s office,” said PA Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter), chairman of the House Health Committee. “This new law will help keep Pennsylvanians safe by offering testing to those most likely to have hepatitis C but are unaware of their blood infection. By increasing testing opportunities, it will ensure that more individuals living with this virus become aware of their infection status and get available treatment for which over 90 percent can be cured.”
Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Other risks include needlestick injuries in healthcare settings or being born to a mother who has hepatitis C. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
The CDC reports that transmission of Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. “Body art is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and other informal or unregulated settings. Further research is needed to determine if these types of settings and exposures are responsible for hepatitis C virus transmission,” according to CDC reports. There have been a few major research studies involving commercial tattooing facilities and nothing was found to show hepatitis C was spread.
Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.” According to the CDC:
- Acute hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis C virus. About 75 percent of people with acute hepatitis C have no symptoms. For most people (between 75 and 85 percent), acute infection leads to chronic infection.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis C include mild fatigue and vomiting within the first six months after exposure. However, in many cases, the disease doesn’t cause any symptoms in its acute phase.
- Chronic hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
Symptoms of chronic hepatitis C, which range from mild to severe, include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)
To find out whether or not you’ve been exposed to hepatitis C you’ll need to have your blood tested in a lab. Order a test online at Milestone Health Direct (milestonehealthdirect.com). No doctor’s appointment is necessary and your test will be performed at the Health Network Laboratories (HNL) Patient Service Center closest to you. HNL is the preferred lab for Milestone Health Direct.