Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is the Summer of Love Killing Your Liver?

by Elizabeth Hanes RN

As the slogan goes, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But for many Baby Boomers - people born in the United States between 1946 and 1964 - what happened during the “Summer of Love” may not be staying in The Sixties.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 million adults in the U.S. are infected with the Hepatitis C virus (also called Hep-C or HCV). Most of those are Baby Boomers. And 75 percent of them don’t even know they’re infected. To close out Hepatitis Awareness Month this May , I want to talk a bit about HCV and why it’s vitally important all Baby Boomers get tested for it.

What is Hepatitis C?

HCV is a virus that causes scarring of the liver (clinically called “cirrhosis”). Cirrhosis eventually can develop into liver cancer, a very serious disease.

How do you get Hep-C?

The virus travels from person to person by exposure to infected blood. Exposure can occur through needle sharing or sexual relations, among other things. As a Boomer myself, I’m well aware of the indiscretions that occurred during the Free Love era, which lasted from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s or so. Multiple sex partners and drug experimentation didn’t always seem dangerous at that time. Unfortunately, those long-forgotten activities could have exposed you to Hepatitis C. That’s why the CDC recommends HCV testing for any Baby Boomer who even once experimented with injectable drugs or had multiple sex partners. Even if that exchange of blood (from a needle) or bodily fluid (from...well, you know) occurred 40 years ago, the Hepatitis C virus could have entered your system at that time and be destroying your liver today.

How is Hepatitis C diagnosed?

As a nurse, I admit I’m not always so good about asking people if they’ve been tested for HCV. When I’m working with a balding, middle-aged man in a suit and tie, it’s difficult for me to picture him as a long-haired youth wearing a fringed vest and tapestry headband. And if I’m taking the vital signs of a middle-aged woman in a solid, 20-year marriage, it can be hard to imagine she once may have been a love child getting frisky with other dudes at the crash pad.

Many people with HCV have no symptoms, so it’s important to get screened even if you feel perfectly healthy. A simple blood test can tell you if you’re infected with the Hep-C virus. Don’t be shy about asking to be screened.

Bottom line: If you don’t know your HCV status, ASK. Don’t wait for your physician to bring up the subject.

What can I do if I'm infected?

No cure exists for HCV. You can keep your liver healthy, in general, by taking these steps:
• Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
• Do not use illicit drugs, especially injectable ones
• Do not share needles
• Avoid eating a fatty diet, since a fatty liver also can cause cirrhosis
• Exercise regularly

Don’t let your youthful indiscretions come back to haunt you in middle age. Get tested for Hepatitis C today!

No comments: