Baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected by hepatitis C, yet they are less likely than younger generations to have been tested for the disease, according to a national survey.
The survey, conducted by Ipsos Reid for the Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF), also showed that while boomers think they are the most knowledgeable generation about hepatitis C, the survey scores show they actually know the least.
The CLF is now recommending that all those born between 1945 and 1975 undergo a one-time blood test to screen for the disease.
“We know that risk-based testing has not been effective in identifying all infected adults, and most physicians surveyed agree they do not screen enough patients for hepatitis C,” CLF chairman Dr. Morris Sherman, a hepatologist at the Toronto General Hospital, said in a press release.
“Given that today’s treatments can cure a majority of those infected, it’s time to be proactive at identifying chronic hepatitis C in the age group with the highest prevalence. The hepatitis C antibody test is inexpensive and is covered by all provincial health care plans.”
Hepatitis C is an infectious virus that is carried in the blood and affects the liver. If left untreated, it can lead to liver damage, cancer, the need for a transplant, and even death, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The virus can be spread through blood-to-blood contact
The CLF estimates that over 300,000 people in Canada have chronic hepatitis C, but many are unaware of it.
“Hepatitis C is a silent disease, meaning often symptoms don’t appear for many years until the liver is severely damaged,” said Dr. Marc Bilodeau, herpetologist and associate professor of Medicine at Université de Montréal.
“The large number of people infected, the asymptomatic nature of the disease, and the serious consequences associated with it justify broader testing.”
The CLF says the tested population should be extended even beyond the boomer generation to account for those emigrating from countries where hepatitis C is more widespread.
The survey also showed that 83 percent of general physicians agree that routine screening would benefit patients, and also admit to having a limited knowledge of the disease and its treatment.
Only 35 percent of the doctors surveyed said they know a lot about the symptoms of the disease, and around 38 percent said they know nothing at all or not much about available treatments. Over half the doctors surveyed did not know that hepatitis C can be cured.
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