Hepatitis C- Why All Seniors Should Get Tested
If you aren’t already familiar with this disease, hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver. Hepatitis is a generic term and can be caused by toxins, medications, diseases, infections or even excessive alcohol use. This viral infection is actually very contagious and can range from a short, relatively mild illness, to a long, severe condition. It is a blood-born virus and one that typically spreads through sharing needles and syringes or from unscreened blood transfusions and unscreened organ transplants. Skin contact with the blood of an infected individual is also another way to spread this virus.
While this virus can vary from person to person, it is still very serious and is something that all seniors and their caregivers should be aware of. It is so common, in fact, that the World Health Organization estimates that around 71 million people around the world have the hepatitis C virus. In the United States, there are roughly 3 million people with the virus. Unlike other forms of hepatitis, there is no preventative vaccine for hepatitis C.
In some cases, hepatitis C can be asymptomatic, but when symptoms do occur they can include the following side effects:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint pain
- Decreased appetite
While symptoms may be present in acute cases of hepatitis C, up to 85 percent of people with this virus have a chronic infection. In these cases, most people don’t notice any changes in their health or any signs or symptoms until their liver has become significantly compromised. In these cases, hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer, liver failure or extreme liver damage.
This is why all seniors should get tested for hepatitis C so they can make sure they aren’t spreading this virus unknowingly and so they can start getting some help on treating the condition and some of its symptoms. There is now an effective cure for hepatitis C that are medications taken for 12 weeks. Seniors can also help prevent liver damage before it causes permanent ramifications. Unfortunately, seniors are at a higher risk for developing hepatitis C when compared to younger adults. This is why the CDC recommends that all seniors get tested for hepatitis C. Other individuals who should get tested include: those who use injection drugs, individuals who have a donor organ or blood transfusion before 1992, anyone HIV positive, any person with liver disease or abnormal liver tests, long-term hemodialysis patients, individuals with sexual contact with a hepatitis-C infected partner.
The best thing that seniors can do is to be proactive and to go to their doctor for a blood test so that they can find out for sure if they are hep C positive. The earlier seniors are able to detect this virus, the sooner they can start getting the help they need to keep themselves and their livers as healthy as possible.
- Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center, earning first-place for her senior research project and placed in the 98th percentile on the national exam for OB/GYN residents in the U.S..
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