Harvard Health Letter

Hepatitis C screening could be critical

Treatment is available if you test positive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that everyone born between 1945 and 1965—the so-called "baby boomer" generation—be tested for hepatitis C. The CDC reports that about two million American adults know they have hepatitis C, and 75% of them are baby boomers. Another 1.5 million baby boomers are likely infected, but aren't seeking treatment because they're unaware of their condition. That could be life threatening. "You have to understand that hepatitis C advances very silently. If it's discovered once the liver fails, then it's too late to save the liver. Screening is so easy," says Dr. Stanley Rosenberg, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

Healthy liver vs. cirrhotic liver

image

The surface of a healthy liver (1) is smooth, while the surface of a cirrhotic liver (2) is irregular. The inside tissue of a cirrhotic liver is also scarred, affecting the function of the organ.

Why it's vital

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can lead to cirrhosis, which leaves the liver scarred and functioning poorly. In some cases, hepatitis C can ultimately result in liver cancer or liver failure. Unfortunately, the number of hepatitis C cases is on the rise, as is the number of deaths related to the disease, according to the CDC.

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