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.