Baby boomers account for three-quarters of cases of hepatitis C in the United States, making them five times more likely to carry the blood-borne virus than other Americans. Given this risk, it makes sense that health departments follow the lead of Rhode Island and urge those born between 1945 and 1965 to be tested for hepatitis C.
Infected people may eventually develop liver cancer, cirrhosis, or other liver conditions. Half of all people awaiting liver transplants, for example, have hepatitis C. The rate of infection was highest in the 1970s and 1980s; the disease is most commonly spread through shared needles, blood transfusions that took place before routine screening, and, on occasion, through sexual contact. Whereas a positive test for hepatitis C once may have made insurance harder to obtain, under federal health reform Americans with such preexisting conditions can’t be denied coverage or charged significantly more in premiums.
Deaths from the disease have increased steadily in recent years, overtaking the number of fatalities from HIV nationwide, largely because many people with hepatitis C don’t know they have it. Authorities are now calling on boomers to get the simple blood test because of new, improved treatments, which now cure 75 percent of cases. And since hepatitis C is typically asymptomatic until serious damage has been done, early screening is crucial.