By: Teri Gottlieb
Recently, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) issued a statement that all Baby Boomers should be tested for Hepatitis C. The question often comes up as to why this particular segment of people is so vulnerable. What does being born between 1945 and 1965 have to do with Hepatitis C? What was different for this group of people that makes them special in a very unwanted way?
There are many components to this answer. There are so many risk factors. The most obvious answer is the 70s. That period of time between 1969 and 1980 where IV drug use was so prevalent. The "Summer of Love" as it was often called, was spent at many concerts and drug use was commonplace. It may have only been one time, and that one time may be all but forgotten, but 30 years later the fatigue set in and that diagnosis of Hepatitis C was made. It only takes one time. During the 70s the Baby Boomers were in their teens and twenties. That age where you're convinced you are indestructible and do things that could actually cause your destruction.
The next answer is the state of the Blood Banks prior to 1992. Right now the blood supply is clean but that wasn't always the case. There was a time when people sold their blood on a regular basis to help supplement their income. Because there has always been a need for blood, all donations were taken. It wasn't until 1992 that the Blood Banks started screening blood donations for the HCV virus, therefore anyone who received blood products prior to 1992 is at risk. It is because of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS that the blood supply in the Blood Bank is now clean.
The Vietnam War is another culprit. Many of the veterans of the Vietnam War are infected with Hepatitis C. There are two reasons for this. One being that the blood that was used in surgeries at the field hospitals run by the Military came from prisons. There has always been a high prevalence of Hepatitis C in prisons because of prison tattoos and of course, this blood supply was not screened. Another risk factor for this group is the air guns that were used to give the soldiers their inoculations. The men were lined up and the shots were given in succession. The needle on that gun was never changed. The gun itself was contaminated with blood. Our veterans, the men who went over to Vietnam and fought in a war that was highly criticized, came back not only to hostile situations but with a virus of which they were unaware.
Getting your ears pierced in the mall is still pretty commonplace but there was a time when the earring wasn't what was used to pierce your ear. Those guns used to use a stationary needle. One that was used over and over again. This practice is still questionable as those machines are probably not cleaned as thoroughly as they should be between customers but when the Baby Boomers got their ears pierced in the mall, the needle was reused.
The use of Universal Precautions in the medical field has changed a lot of things and made things safer, but prior to the mid 1990s they weren't in place. Gloves weren't worn when blood was drawn or when a patient who was bleeding came in to the hospital. This was more of a risk for the health care worker than the patient but the patient was still at risk. Needles on syringes were always recapped causing needle stick injuries for many nurses and lab personnel.
Until the mid 1990s going to the dentist could have given you more than clean teeth. It could have given you a great big case of Hepatitis C. Dental practices didn't sterilize their equipment as they do now and dried blood was often left on the instruments. Dried blood that was contaminated with HCV. No one expected to get a virus along with their filling but it happened.
It is for all of these reasons that the Baby Boomers are a high risk group for Hepatitis C. It is estimated that two-thirds of the people with Hepatitis C are Baby Boomers. Most of them are not even aware that they are carrying this virus. Please, if you are a Baby Boomer, GET TESTED.