Every year, nearly three to four million people are being infected by hepatitis C, a disease that often has no symptoms and can cause an increased risk of cancer and liver failure. Although hepatitis C can affect anyone, an increasing number of middle-age and older adults are being diagnosed, particularly baby boomers.
“More than 75 percent of the adults who are infected with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965, but most don’t know about it because there are no symptoms. It’s a real health issue facing the older population,” explains Scott Fink, MD, chief of hepatology at Main Line Health.
Most baby boomers are believed to have been infected with hepatitis C in the 1970s and 1980s, when rates of infection were the highest and before the screening of blood supply began. The disease is most often transferred through blood transfusions, sharing needles, and sexual contact.
Since hepatitis C has no symptoms, many of these adults have been living with the disease for years, and the longer it has gone untreated and undetected, the more at risk patients are for serious health complications down the road, including liver disease, liver cancer, and, in serious cases, death.
Fortunately, treatments are available for hepatitis C. While the disease has traditionally been treated with a weekly injection that caused unpleasant flu-like side effects, there is hope on the horizon for patients looking for better treatment. The FDA recently approved two new drugs — Sovaldi and Olysio — that are expected to improve both the treatment of hepatitis C and decrease unpleasant side effects of treatment.
“There are a number of benefits to these treatments. For some patients, this is the first time an all oral regimen has been available for hepatitis C. It offers fewer side effects and higher response rates for patients,” says Dr. Fink. “It provides a lot of hope for patients who historically have only had one option for treatment.”
The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to get tested. Your doctor can conduct a blood test to determine whether or not you’ve been affected. If you think you may be at risk, talk to your primary care doctor about your concerns. To find a Main Line Health physician in your area, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.