Baby boomers may be more at risk of contracting hepatitis C. Learn about risk factors, stigmas, and treatments.

People born between 1945 and 1965 are also known as baby boomers. According to 2016 research, this generation may be more likely to have hepatitis C than other people. This is often why you used to hear the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend baby boomers get routine testing for hepatitis C.

However, a 2020 CDC report noted a rise in hepatitis C rates among younger adults. Newer CDC recommendations advise all adults, pregnant people, and those with risk factors to get tested for hepatitis C, not just baby boomers.

There are cultural, historical, and social stigmas attached to both the age group and the disease, and there’s no one single reason why this generation was at a higher risk of hepatitis C. Let’s look at all the possible reasons, from blood transfusions to drug use, and treatment options.

Even though baby boomers are no longer the only age group at higher risk of hepatitis C, there may still be risk factors associated with this age group.

The biggest reason baby boomers were thought to be more likely to have hepatitis C was due to unsafe medical procedures at the time. In the past, doctors had no protocol or screening method to check if a blood supply was virus-free.

A 2016 study points to unsafe medical procedures of the time rather than drug use as the primary reason behind hepatitis C transmission in baby boomers. Researchers behind the study found that:

  • The highest number of new transmissions occurred before 1965.
  • The highest transmission rates happened through the 1940s and early 1960s.
  • The population with hepatitis C stabilized between 1965 and 1989.

These findings counter the stigma of drug misuse around the disease. Most baby boomers were far too young to use drugs or engage in sexual activity.

The risk baby boomers are subject to is also a matter of time and place: They came of age before hepatitis C was identified and routinely tested for.

Other risk factors

Experts still consider intravenous drug misuse to be a significant risk factor for this disease. But 2021 research shows that even people who didn’t contract hepatitis C by injecting drugs still face this stigma.

Other risk factors include:

  • having sex without a barrier method
  • sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes containing the virus
  • unregulated tattooing
  • needlestick injuries among healthcare personnel
  • having a birthing parent living with hepatitis C

A person can also carry the virus for a long time before it causes symptoms. This makes it even more difficult to determine when or how the infection occurred.

The stigma that drug misuse is the main reason for people contracting hepatitis C can lead people away from getting tested. Researchers behind the 2016 study hope that their findings will help increase rates of screening.

Hepatitis C, like HIV, carries certain social stigmas because it can be transmitted by intravenous drug misuse. However, hepatitis C can also be transmitted through blood and sexual fluids containing the virus.

Effects of stigmas

  • prevent people from obtaining the healthcare they need
  • affect self-esteem and quality of life
  • delay diagnosis and treatment
  • increase risk of complications

Breaking down barriers to testing and treatment is crucial, especially since a person can have hepatitis C for decades without any notable symptoms. The longer a person goes undiagnosed, the more likely they’ll experience serious health complications or require a liver transplant, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Considering the high cure rate with treatment, working through the stigma to get tested or treated is important.

The virus can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says newer treatments hold a 90 to 100 percent cure rate.

Treatments in the past were more complicated. They consisted of months-long treatment protocols that involved painful drug injections and low success rates.

Today, people receiving a hepatitis C diagnosis can take a drug combination pill for 12 weeks. After finishing this treatment, many people are considered cured.

Consider asking your doctor about taking a hepatitis C screening if you fall into the risk factor category and haven’t been tested yet. A simple blood test will reveal whether your blood has hepatitis C antibodies.

If antibodies are present, you’ll receive reactive, or positive, results. A positive test result doesn’t necessarily mean the virus is active. But it does mean you’ve acquired the virus at some time in the past.

Hepatitis C antibodies always remain in the blood once a person has contracted the virus, even if they’ve cleared it. A follow-up blood test is necessary to determine whether you currently have the infection.

If you receive a hepatitis C diagnosis, your doctor can refer you to a specialist to establish a treatment plan.

It can be hard to talk about your diagnosis, especially at first, so consider taking a companion with you for support. A circle of trusted friends or family members can be an invaluable system of support during your treatment.

While being born between 1945 and 1965 was considered a risk factor for hepatitis C a few years ago, it’s definitely not a reflection of anyone’s behavior or past. People who don’t engage in high risk behaviors can still acquire hepatitis C.

Newer studies have shown that hepatitis C affects multiple generations, not only baby boomers. There should be no shame or stigma associated with your birth year.

All adults, pregnant people, and anyone at high risk should consider getting a blood test to screen for hepatitis C. Antiviral treatment holds very promising results.