Four years ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a warning...
Anyone born between 1945 and 1965 needed to test their blood for hepatitis C. But a new report published last week revealed that only 13.8% of folks have done so.
That's a problem because out of the 3.5 million Americans with the virus, a staggering 80% of them are in the Baby Boomer generation.
Even worse, most of these 3.5 million don't even know they're sick...
Hepatitis C is one type of the liver disease hepatitis (from the Greek hepat- meaning liver and -itis, meaning inflamed). The other types are A and B.
Hepatitis A comes from consuming food or beverages with the virus in it... this usually happens when feces contaminate the food or water. Hepatitis A is rare in the U.S., and your body fights it off in about three months.
Hepatitis B spreads through sex, sharing needles, and direct contact with infected bodily fluids (like blood). It usually lasts about six months, but can stretch out for much longer. You can even have it and not have any symptoms.
Hepatitis C, like hepatitis B, is spread through sharing needles, direct contact with bodily fluids, and – to a much lesser extent – sex. It can last from six months to the rest of your life.
Overall, hepatitis causes symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, dark urine, and yellowing of eyes or skin. However, hepatitis (particularly type C) often doesn't cause any symptoms until it's already severely damaged your liver.
Out of every 100 people who have hepatitis C, 60 to 70 will develop chronic liver disease. That means serious damage that affects how well you can get toxins out of your body and how well you can break down food. In addition, one to five out of those 100 will die from liver cancer or liver failure.
For years, we've known that members of the Baby Boomer generation had significantly higher rates of hepatitis C.
Originally, doctors blamed the behavior of Baby Boomers for the spread of hepatitis C... Boomers had higher rates of recreational drug use and unprotected sex than previous generations. This led to a stigma that kept some folks from seeking health care.
However, research last year in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal showed that folks in the Baby Boomer generation have hospital errors to blame. That's because disposable needles didn't become common practice everywhere until the late fifties and early sixties.
Clinicians pinpointed the largest spread of hepatitis C to 1950... back when doctors washed, disinfected, and re-used needles. But sometimes disinfecting didn't kill the hepatitis C virus. It also means doctors and hospitals unknowingly exposed Baby Boomers to diseases when they were infants or toddlers. It also wasn't until 1992 that we began thorough disease screening on blood used for transfusions.
Hepatitis C carries dangerous – and sometimes fatal – complications including permanent liver damage and cancer. Hepatitis C death rates hit an all-time high in 2014 with 19,659 deaths. Here's the problem though... since so many folks have the virus and don't know it, the actual death toll is most likely much higher.
In fact, researchers estimate that if Baby Boomers get tested and start treatment, it will prevent more than 300,000 deaths in the next 15 years.
Understand though, the treatments for hepatitis C are severe. They can cause everything from itchy patches on your skin to flu-like symptoms, hair loss, and even drops in red blood cell counts. It depends on the type of treatment used.Retirement Millionaire subscribers know we wrote about a new treatment that came to the market in our December 2015 issue here. If you're not yet a subscriber, click here to get started.
If you haven't had the test yet, make an appointment with your doctor.
One thing to keep in mind... about a decade ago, the false-positive rate used to be about 10% for these tests. Newer technology brought that number down to about 3% in recent years. However, it's worth asking your doctor which tests he orders and what steps he takes to ensure the result isn't a false reading.
Take control of your health – and your future – by getting a hepatitis test today.
- What to know about false-positives for hepatitis C.
- Something different: Leave it to scientists to name new planets after their favorite beer.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
Buffalo, New York
March 14, 2017