Q:  I've read that as a baby boomer, I should get tested for hepatitis C.  I don't think I'm at risk.  Should I still ask my doctor about it? 

A:  Yes, I strongly urge you to talk with your doctor about being screened.  An estimated 5 million Americans are living with hepatitis C, a liver disease caused by a bloodborne virus, and most don't know it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The organization estimates that 75 percent of that 5 million are baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1965. 

Hepatitis C patients can live for years without experiencing symptoms, so it's often referred to as a "silent" killer. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, however, treatments are now available that can help treat and potentially cure the disease.

Hepatitis C spreads through contact with the blood of an infected person. It can lead to liver cancer and liver failure. Hepatitis C is the leading cause for liver transplant. You can get the virus if:

  • Your mother had it when you were born
  • You had a blood transfusion before 1992
  • You've had intercourse with an infected person
  • You got a tattoo or body piercing at an unlicensed facility
  • You've shared razors, toothbrushes or injection drug needles with an infected person

Regardless of risk factors, all baby boomers should get tested for the Hepatitis C virus.  Those on dialysis should be tested yearly.  Identifying hidden infections allow people to receive treatment before they develop life-threatening liver disease. With testing, lives can be saved. Talk with your healthcare provider.

Hisham ElGenaidi, M.D., is the medical director of the Hepatitis C Clinic at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center.