Hepatitis C: Facing a threat to baby boomer health head-on

(BPT) – Up to 5 million Americans suffer from an often symptomless – but potentially serious – liver infection called hepatitis C. Many are surprised to learn it affects four times as many people as the number of people with HIV. Three out of four people infected with hepatitis C in the United States are baby boomers – those born between 1945 and 1965. Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends all baby boomers be tested once for hepatitis C.

Kerry Monahan, a 57-year-old teacher, mother of three and grandmother of five, was shocked to learn she had hepatitis C and may have been living with it for years. “I had no idea I was infected,” she said. “Like many baby boomers, I had no symptoms and thought I was in great health.”

Untreated hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver disease, liver cancer and the need for liver transplant in the United States. Deaths from hepatitis C are also on the rise. In 2007, there were 15,000 deaths in the United States from hepatitis C, surpassing the number of deaths from HIV that year.

Despite the serious nature of hepatitis C, for many people, it can be cured, unlike other viruses such as hepatitis B and HIV. A person is considered cured of hepatitis C when the virus cannot be detected in the blood six months after they have ended treatment.

After she was diagnosed, Monahan and her liver specialist discussed her options. Because of the potential risks of letting her hepatitis C go untreated, she decided to begin treatment for her hepatitis C immediately.

“When I learned that there’s no way of knowing exactly how quickly my hepatitis C could progress, I wanted to begin treatment right away and not delay,” said Monahan. “I was determined to beat this infection.”

Monahan completed treatment and her follow-up tests revealed that she has achieved a cure. “I’m so glad I made the decision to be treated instead of waiting. Now, I can put hepatitis C behind me and focus on my family and friends,” said Monahan.

“As someone who frequently treats people with hepatitis C, I have seen the significant health complications caused by letting it go untreated,” said Kathryn McParlane, N.P., the clinician who helped Monahan through her treatment. “It’s extremely important that those who are diagnosed with hepatitis C discuss the risks and options with their health care professionals.”

Accompanying photo is licensed stock photography that depicts models for illustrative purposes only.

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