Boomers make up the majority of hepatitis C infections in the United States -- though many don't know they're harboring it. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is officially recommending all boomers get screened for the liver-destroying virus. "Unless we take action, we project deaths will increase substantially," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden.
Unlike hepatitis B, for which two-thirds of cases are spread sexually, hepatitis C is mainly a blood-borne virus. Today it 's spread primarily through shared drug needles, says the CDC. But before the widespread screening of blood donations in the early 1990s, it was often spread through blood transfusions. Some cases may also come from tattoos, piercings, shared razor blades and toothbrushes, nail salons and snorted cocaine.
However it's spread, it now affects an estimated 3.2 million Americans, and two-thirds of these cases are among boomers. Officials say boomers are five times more likely to be infected than other adults.
What makes hepatitis C particularly pernicious is that someone can be infected for several decades without showing any symptoms. But that doesn't mean the virus is harmless during that period; it slowly and gradually scars the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. More than 15,000 Americans die each year from hepatitis C-related illnesses, says the CDC, and the number has been growing.
A one-time blood test can tell if someone has the virus. All people born from 1945 to 1965 who have not already been tested should ask to be tested at their next doctor visit, said Frieden.
Friday Quick Hits:
Not your typical senior-center craft hour. The Los Angeles-based EngAGE program provides arts and other classes for low-income retirees living in senior apartment communities, including the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, where residents write soap operas, exhibit oil paintings and make short films. "We see people without money, who had very hard lives, who are not aware of their own potential," said EngAGE COO Maureen Kellen-Taylor. "They just had to get through life, taking care of things, and the idea of following a dream was not on their radar screens."
Midlife workers living paycheck to paycheck. A new survey says workers ages 45 to 54 struggle most to pay the bills. Among those who said they live paycheck to paycheck, 43 percent were in this age group, compared to 34 percent of those 55 and older, 40 percent of 18-34 year olds and 42 percent of those 35 to 44.