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Hepatitis C for Boomers

August 17, 2012

In The Highest Frontier, the scourge of campus lifestyles is a liver virus called hepatitis Q. It doesn’t exist yet, but surely will someday, in the endless parade of emerging liver diseases. The liver’s main function is to deactivate toxins, but unfortunately it also tends to collect viruses. Most liver viruses get cleared out, or hang out for decades without too much trouble. But certain ones cause a lot of trouble for unfortunate victims; and such is hepatitis C.

The CDC has at last come out recommending all “baby boomers” (translate: those who came of age in the 60s and might have done more than inhale) to get tested for hepatitis C. (Details here.) The recommendation particularly includes “persons who 1) had ever injected drugs, 2) were ever on chronic hemodialysis, 3) received blood transfusions or organ transplants before July 1992, or 4) received clotting factor concentrates produced before 1987.” Considering the type of drugs injected by those who did back then, and the convenience of poor memory, the age range (persons born during 1945–1965) may be a good idea.

Why now after so long?  Hepatitis C can hang out unnoticed for decades (even longer than HIV) before activating to cause liver disease such as cancer. Now that those liver diseases are appearing, we can save lives by finding the others before irreparable liver damage sets in.

Cynics among us may note that the CDC’s recommendation comes out just as two HCV protease inhibitors (telaprevir and boceprevir) were licensed in the USA. But positively, it only makes sense to test for something we now can treat, and possibly add decades of health to one’s life. And today, watch out for surgery in hospitals where surgical assistants may be switching out syringes.

BTW, might help to think twice about the new tattoo craze.

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