Hepatitis may be more dangerous than H-I-V

By Shayna Brouker • Published: May 7th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You made it through the ’60s and ’70s unscathed, even after partaking in some unsavory behaviors. But even so, Baby Boomers might still be at risk for a behavior-related disease and not even know it.

New research shows that hepatitis C kills more people than H-I-V due to undiagnosed liver disease. More than 3 million American have hepatitis C, and about two-thirds of those infected are Baby Boomers born between the years 1945 and 1964 … but about half don’t know they are infected because screening is rare.

May is National Hepatitis Awareness Month. Like H-I-V, it can be spread through injectable drug use — which Baby Boomers are more likely to have tried than younger or older generations. Screening for blood donors didn’t start until the late 1980s, so it could have been spread through blood transfusions, too. And hospitals didn’t practice infection control as strictly as they do now.

So what can you do to protect yourself? First, practice safe needle use. If you get a tattoo or acupuncture, make sure the practitioner sterilizes needles thoroughly.

It’s just as important to get yourself tested. There aren’t many symptoms, so hepatitis C can go undiagnosed for decades, causing significant damage to the liver. Deaths from H-I-V have decreased thanks to better screening and improved access to care, so getting tested is the first step, and the sooner the better.

If you do have hepatitis C, you can prevent spreading it to others by avoiding exchange of bodily fluids. Keep cuts, blisters and open wounds covered and throw out bandages. Don’t share your toothbrush, razor, nail clippers or anything that could have your blood on it. But contrary to belief, hepatitis C is not spread through saliva. So you can kiss your loved ones — just don’t bleed on them. Staying smart about hepatitis C can keep it contained.