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Even Seniors Should Get Tested for Hepatitis C

No doubt you have heard it before. It’s one more health awareness item that demands our attention when we get older. It’s one more screening, one more thing where being pro-active is the doorway to better health and a safer year.

This one is for hepatitis C. New research shows that hepatitis C is particularly acute for those born between 1945 and 1965. This legacy group of citizens includes more than 75 percent of adults living with hepatitis C.

Screenings and awareness should be a familiar duet to older individuals when it comes to health care. Yet because hepatitis is a killer that can hide quietly for years, it is often relegated to the non-tested heap as other illnesses — more often in the news — clamor for attention.

World Hepatitis Day on July 28 aims to change that by helping to create more awareness and to educate people about the alphabet gamut of hepatitis dangers — A, B, C, D, E, and G — and the best ways to embrace prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

There are many doorways to hepatitis — viruses, autoimmune response, and even alcohol — all sharing a similar stealth threat and powerful crippling potential. Early symptoms can include jaundice, exhaustion, stomach pains, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever, and headaches.

Because those are symptoms of other maladies, it is imperative to get tested. Vaccines are available to protect against hepatitis A and B. Also helpful is taking hepatitis precautions when traveling, such as avoiding contaminated water. Practicing safe sex is important as is avoiding sharing high-risk items — not just in drug use but also with things ranging from tattoo needles to tooth brushes; and don’t forget to wash hands frequently. Viral hepatitis causes more than one million deaths per year, a number comparable to deaths caused by tuberculosis and HIV combined. While deaths from tuberculosis and HIV have been declining, deaths from hepatitis are increasing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, viral hepatitis affects millions of people worldwide, causing both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) liver disease. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) data shows an estimated 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C.

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services released a three-year action plan aimed at eliminating most if not all hepatitis threats from the United States.

“The United States will be a place where new viral hepatitis infections have been eliminated, where all people with chronic hepatitis B and C know their status and everyone with chronic hepatitis B and C has access to high quality health care and curative treatments, free from stigma and discrimination,” the action plan said.

Indeed, as the plan points out, citizens, medical professionals, local organizations, and others have the knowledge and tools to save lives and win the fight against viral hepatitis. They just need to use them — and use them immediately. Today, the number of new hepatitis C virus infections has increased rapidly, prior progress in reducing new hepatitis B virus infections has stalled, and hepatitis-related deaths have increased.

“We are missing key opportunities to prevent transmission, diagnose and treat infections, prevent serious disease, and — in many cases — cure people. Today, an estimated 4.4 million Americans from all walks of life are living with chronic viral hepatitis infection and are at increased risk for liver disease, liver cancer, and death. In 2012, hepatitis C related deaths surpassed deaths from all other reportable infectious diseases combined and continued to rise in 2013 and 2014, killing more Americans each year,” the action plan warned.

The current outbreak of hepatitis A has been on the mind of most Americans, as it seems to be getting progressively worse. According to experts, this outbreak is the worst epidemic in 20 years for the United States, which could escalate as the infection has an incubation period of up to seven weeks.

It is one more reason to learn more about hepatitis and acknowledge that it can happen to you.

The key to any plan is individual action. The time to act is now.