Baby boomers, it’s not enough that we are dropping like flies from heart disease, obesity, stress, cancer, strokes, and high cholesterol, now they throw this on us. As part of being a boomer I’ve switched from being a carnivore to an herbivore, mostly. I take regular exercise, sort of, and each morning I take two pills to keep my blood pressure from making my head explode, one pill to make my blood thinner, one pill to get the lipids out of my thin blood and 2 ibuprofen to numb the pain the exist in most of my joints. My lifestyle has left me thinking more about bacon than about sex and I drink so much green tea that I’m embarrassed to smile. I do all this so that I can live one or two months longer.
Now they, in this case they are the CDC and the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) tell me I need to be screened for HCV because I might be a walking time bomb. Quite frankly I have never heard of the US Preventive Services Task Force, although, I have heard of, and generally, trust the CDC.
HCV is not new to me, of course it’s my job to know that kind of thing. However, for many people, HCV is something of a mystery. Even I wouldn’t know as much as I do if I hadn’t known a delightful young woman who, at the age of 19, was diagnosed with the condition. I am delighted to say that she recovered and is doing fine.
HCV stands for the Hepatitis C virus. It turns out that there are lots of viruses that can infect and damage the liver, and HCV is just one of them.
HAV: Perhaps you have heard of HAV, sometimes called infectious hepatitis, which is often associated food that has become tinted with the virus, usually from human feces. Just yesterday (28 June 2013) the FDA recalled a batch of food from the “Scenic Fruit Company of Gresham, Ore.,” The company was required to recall “three different lots of its Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels, which were shipped from February through May to United Natural Foods Inc. distribution centers in 12 states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.”
HAV is infectious (person to person; direct or indirect contact and through consuming contaminated food food or water) early during the infection, but becomes non-infectious after 3-4 weeks. The prognosis is usually quite good and people recovery slowly over a period of 2-3 months. There is a safe an effective vaccine against HAV.
HBV: HBV is a form of hepatitis that is transmitted through blood products and body fluids. It can also be sexually transmitted. HBV will infect roughly 1/3 of the world’s population at some point during their life; at any given moment, there are about 350 million cases worldwide. HBV has a carrier state, in which a person is symptom free but is still infectious. The disease is endemic in China and occurs as epidemics in Africa and Asia. The USA and Europe both have a low prevalence of HBV. In the U.S. the most likely age group to have HBV are those that are 25-44 years old with an incidence of about 6 per 1,000 of population. Like HAV, there is a safe and effective vaccine for HBV; the vaccine has been available since 1981. Like HCV, HBV is a leading cause of liver damage requiring transplantation. HBV is the most common cause of “end stage liver failure” in the world.
HCV: In the past HCV was known as non-A, non-B hepatitis. HCV infects about 130-200 million people worldwide. Like HBV it is spread through blood products and can be transmitted sexually. Symptoms are sometimes mild (fatigue, nausea, muscle and joint aches and pains) or absent and this is where the risk is found. Despite the lack of symptoms, the virus can silently and slowly destroy the liver, leading to cirrhosis and potentially requiring a liver transplant. About 80% of those infected will go on to develop the chronic form of the disease. In many of these cases, symptoms of liver failure may not show up for 30 years or more. There is no vaccine available. HCV is the leading cause of end stage liver failure in the United States.
The silent and asymptomatic nature of HCV and because testing for HCV has been widespread and effective for only the last 30 years prompted the “USPSTF [25 June 2013] to recommend screening for HCV infection in persons at high risk for infection. The USPSTF also recommends offering 1-time screening for HCV infection to adults born between 1945 and 1965.”
If you think this new recommendation applies to you or someone you know, you might also be interested in Expanded Hepatitis C Virus Screening Recommendations Promote Opportunities for Care and Cure which looks into the issue more fully and could be very helpful in your decision making process.
The test requires a blood sample, but otherwise it is no big deal. Overall it better to know than to find out the hard way.