An online survey reveals that almost three-quarters (74 percent) of baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) have never been tested or are unsure if they have been tested for hepatitis C, and 80 percent do not consider themselves at any risk for having the disease. That patient population is actually most likely to have the disease.
According to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), which commissioned Harris Interactive to survey more than 1,000 baby boomers not previously diagnosed with hepatitis, lack of awareness among baby boomers has significant implications. In announcing the survey results. The AGA noted that nearly 5 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, of which 82 percent are baby boomers. However, three in four people infected don't know they have hepatitis C, which is the leading cause of liver failure, liver cancer or the need for a liver transplant in the United States.
In addition to a lack of knowledge, the survey showed a lack of action: 83 percent of the baby boomers surveyed have never discussed hepatitis C with their healthcare provider, even though it is diagnosed with a simple blood test and for many people, can be cured.
Findings were released by the AGA in advance of National Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19. The survey is part of a new AGA educational campaign called I.D. Hep C .
"Many baby boomers have a potentially dangerous 'it's not me' mentality about hepatitis C, and this survey underscores how poorly most people in that generation understand that risk factors do apply to them," said Ira M. Jacobson, MD, AGAF, chief, division of gastroenterology and hepatology and professor of medicine at The Joan Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and physician co-advisor to AGA's I.D. Hep C campaign. "Given the potentially deadly consequences of allowing hepatitis C to go undiagnosed, the AGA urges all baby boomers to talk to their doctors about getting tested."
By visiting www.IDHepC.org, people can learn more about hepatitis C and testing and get information on where to get tested — including free or low-cost screening events in some regions in the days surrounding National Hepatitis Testing Day.
AGA noted that liver damage from hepatitis C gets worse over time, and because many boomers have been infected for decades, the number of people who die from hepatitis C-related liver problems (about 15,000) is expected to increase by 207 percent from 2000 to 2030.
"The disease can't be treated if people don't know they are infected. With treatment, the chance of a cure is greater than ever," said Michael Ryan, MD, clinical professor of medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School, practicing gastroenterologist with Digestive and Liver Disease Specialists of Norfolk, Va., and physician co-advisor to AGA's I.D. Hep C campaign. "I see every day the devastation hepatitis C can cause, especially to those who have lived with the disease for years without knowing it. Baby boomers shouldn't wait – they should talk to their doctors today about getting this simple test."