HEPATI­TIS C:

Blood test

Milwaukee Health - - STAY WELL -

As the largest in­ter­nal or­gan, the liver pro­cesses every­thing we take in orally and through our skin, and it plays a vi­tal role in our me­tab­o­lism. It breaks down fats, pro­duces en­ergy, detox­i­fies chem­i­cals and aids in blood clot­ting. That’s why Dee Gi­rard, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Up­per Mid­west Divi­sion of the Amer­i­can Liver Foun­da­tion, says, “Your liver is your life.”

Of the many kinds of liver dis­ease, one is a deadly “silent killer” be­cause it can show no symp­toms for decades. Af­fect­ing up to 4 mil­lion Amer­i­cans is hepati­tis C, a virus that in­fects the liver and com­pro­mises its func­tion. (Hepati­tis A and B are less com­mon and more eas­ily di­ag­nosed and thus treated.) About 75 to 85 per­cent of cases of hepati­tis C be­come chronic, mean­ing if they’re not caught and suc­cess­fully treated with med­i­ca­tion, they can even­tu­ally lead to cir­rho­sis, liver cancer and liver fail­ure.

Baby boomers (born be­tween 1946 and 1964) are at high­est risk – es­ti­mates run as high as one in 30. That’s be­cause hepati­tis C wasn’t dis­cov­ered un­til 1989 and do­nated blood wasn’t screened for the virus un­til July 1992. At risk are peo­ple who re­ceived a blood trans­fu­sion or an or­gan trans­plant be­fore then, or had tat­toos or body pierc­ings or shared nee­dles – or straws – to take drugs. Even those who shared tooth­brushes or ra­zors may have caught it.

But it’s not just boomers who need to be tested. Any­one who’s shared nee­dles or en­gaged in “non-ster­ile” ac­tiv­i­ties could have con­tracted it. In light of the cur­rent opi­oid cri­sis, medical pro­fes­sion­als fear the num­bers may be on the rise.

The good news is that the test is sim­ple and pain­less, and false reads are rare. In fact, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion recommends all baby boomers get it, and many if not most in­sur­ance car­ri­ers re­quire it. Should you test pos­i­tive, your doc­tor will pre­scribe a six- to eight-week treat­ment pro­to­col of oral med­i­ca­tion, and with to­day’s new gen­er­a­tion of hep-C drugs, the cure rate is bet­ter than 90 per­cent. For more in­for­ma­tion, call the Amer­i­can Liver Foun­da­tion’s 24-hour hot­line: 800-GO-LIVER.

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