Black folks have highest hep C rates of all ethnic groups
Baby boomers, beware: You are five times more likely than other adults to be infected with hepatitis C. In fact, 75 percent of adults with hepatitis C are from the baby boomer generation. Within the African-American community, chronic liver disease, often hepatitis C-related, is a leading cause of death among people between the ages of 45 and 64. African Americans also have a significantly higher rate of chronic hepatitis C infection than other ethnic groups.
Usually caused by a virus, hepatitis C is the most common type of viral hepatitis in this country (in 2013, the most recent year these statistics were collected, an estimated 3.5 million people were living with the virus), and it is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for 75 percent to 85 percent of people who become infected with the virus, it becomes a long-term infection that could lead to death. In fact, more than 15,000 Americans die annually from hepatitis C-related illness. It is also a leading cause of liver cancer and, because hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis, liver damage and liver failure, it is the leading reason for liver transplants.
Though the reasons for the higher infection rates among baby boomers aren’t understood, researchers believe many boomers may have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of hepatitis C were highest. Risk factors for hepatitis infection include:
Illegal injection drug use
Blood transfusions or organ transplant before 1992
Long-term dialysis treatment
Having received a tattoo with needles that were not properly disinfected
It is possible to have hepatitis C but have no symptoms. A blood test is the only way to know if you have the disease. Knowing your diagnosis and getting treated with antiviral medications can help clear hepatitis C and prevent liver damage. If you’re a baby boomer in a high-risk category, talk to your doctor about getting tested.