Baby boomers should get test for hep­ati­tis C to pro­tect liver

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - ENTERTAINMENT - — Healthy Boomer JIM MILLER

DI’ve re­cently read that all baby boomers should get tested for hep­ati­tis C. Is this re­ally nec­es­sary, and if so, what are the test­ing and treat­ment pro­ce­dures? It’s true. Both the U.S. Pre­ven­tive Ser­vices Task Force and the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion (CDC) rec­om­mend that all baby boomers — peo­ple born from 1945 through 1965 — get a hep­ati­tis C test. Baby boomers ac­count for 75 per­cent of the 3 mil­lion or so hep­ati­tis C cases in the U.S. Those who are in­fected are at very high risk of even­tu­ally de­vel­op­ing liver cancer, cir­rho­sis or other fa­tal liver dis­eases. Most hep­ati­tis C in­fec­tions oc­curred in the 1970s and 1980s, be­fore there were tests to de­tect them and be­fore the na­tion’s blood sup­ply was rou­tinely screened for the virus. Hep­ati­tis C is trans­mit­ted only through blood, so any­one who re­ceived ei­ther a blood trans­fu­sion or an or­gan trans­plant prior to 1992 is at in­creased risk, too. So are health care work­ers ex­posed to blood and peo­ple who in­jected drugs through shared nee­dles. The virus can also be spread through mi­cro­scopic amounts of in­fected blood that could oc­cur dur­ing sex, from shar­ing a ra­zor or tooth­brush, or get­ting a tat­too or body pierc­ing at an un­ster­ile shop.

Most peo­ple who have hep­ati­tis C don’t know they’re in­fected be­cause there are no symp­toms un­til their liver be­comes se­verely dam­aged. It can ac­tu­ally take 30 years for peo­ple to show any signs of the virus, but by then it may be too late to treat. But if it’s de­tected in time, it can be cured.

Jim Miller is a con­trib­u­tor to NBC-TV’s “To­day” pro­gram and au­thor of “The Savvy Se­nior.” Send your ques­tions to Savvy Se­nior, P.O. Box 5443, Nor­man, OK 73070; or visit savvy­se­nior.org.

Test­ing and treat­ment

If you’re be­tween ages 52 and 72 or fall into one of the pre­vi­ously listed high-risk cat­e­gories, you should see your pri­mary-care doc­tor for a ba­sic blood test to de­ter­mine whether you have ever been in­fected with hep­ati­tis C. This is a rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive test and typ­i­cally cov­ered by health in­sur­ance un­der rou­tine med­i­cal care.

If the test is nega­tive, no fur­ther tests are needed. But if the test is pos­i­tive, you’ll need an­other test, called HCV RNA, which will show whether the virus is still ac­tive.

If you test pos­i­tive, you have chronic hep­ati­tis C and will need to talk to your doc­tor about treat­ment op­tions. If you’re in­fected but have no liver dam­age, your doc­tor should mon­i­tor your liver at your an­nual phys­i­cal. The main treat­ments for chronic hep­ati­tis C to­day are sev­eral FDA-ap­proved an­tivi­ral med­i­ca­tions that have a 95 per­cent cure rate. Com­pared with older treat­ments, these new med­i­ca­tions have min­i­mal side ef­fects. Un­for­tu­nately, all the new drugs are very ex­pen­sive — a 12-week treat­ment course can cost any­where from $50,000 to $90,000.

Not all health in­sur­ance plans, in­clud­ing Medi­care Part D plans, cover all pre­scribed med­i­ca­tions for hep­ati­tis C. And due to the ex­pen­sive na­ture of these med­i­ca­tions, most in­sur­ance plans re­quire that you meet sev­eral re­quire­ments in order to get cov­er­age.

If your in­sur­ance provider doesn’t cover the an­tivi­ral ther­apy your doc­tor rec­om­mends, there are fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance op­tions avail­able. Visit HEPC.liv­er­foun­da­tion.org, put your cur­sor on “Re­sources” and click on “What if I need Fi­nan­cial As­sis­tance to Pay for Treat­ment?” And for more hep­ati­tis C in­for­ma­tion, along with a quick on­line quiz to de­ter­mine your risks, see CDC.gov/know­more­hep­ati­tis. In­for­ma­tion is also avail­able by call­ing the toll-free HELP-4-HEP help line at 877-435-7443.

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