Good news, hypochondriacs — here's something new to worry about. On Friday, the CDC issued draft recommendations urging all baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) to get tested for hepatitis C. Of the 3.2 million Americans with hep C, 2 million are baby boomers. And they might not know it.
According to the CDC, hepatitis C can take decades to cause liver damage, so many people carrying the virus are not aware they have it. While only about three percent of baby boomers test positive, they're the generation most likely to be infected.
Ideally, the new CDC guidelines will encourage people to seek treatment: these measures could save more than 120,000 lives. There are currently more than 15,000 deaths a year from hepatitis C, which scars the liver and can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Before 1992, blood transfusions didn't even screen for the virus. It was also spread through needle drugs and possibly even snorting cocaine, as only trace amounts of hep C can cause infection.
Health officials believe hundreds of thousands of new hepatitis C infections were occurring each year in the 1970s and 1980s, most of them in the younger adults of the era — the baby boomers. The hepatitis C virus was first identified in 1989.
While a quarter of infected people are able to clear the virus naturally, the rest have "active and dangerous infections."
From 1999 to 2007, the number of deaths from hep C-related diseases almost doubled. The good news, however, is that there are two new drugs that may be able to cure the virus. So go get tested, boomers, even if you've never engaged in any particularly risky behaviors. And then we can move on to the next panic.