BETHESDA, Md., May 14, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) have never been tested or are unsure if they have been tested for hepatitis C, and 80 percent do not consider themselves at any risk for having the disease, according to a new survey by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). This lack of knowledge has significant implications — nearly 5 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C of which 82 percent are baby boomers, but three in four people infected don't know they have it. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver failure, liver cancer or the need for a liver transplant in the U.S.
In addition to a lack of knowledge, the survey showed a lack of action: 83 percent of the baby boomers surveyed have never discussed hepatitis C with their health-care provider, even though it is diagnosed with a simple blood test and for many people, can be cured. Findings were released today by the AGA in advance of National Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19) to encourage baby boomers to talk to their health-care providers about getting tested—discussions that could potentially save lives. The survey of more than 1,000 baby boomers not previously diagnosed with hepatitis C was conducted online by Harris Interactive* on behalf of the AGA as part of a new educational campaign called I.D. Hep C.
"Many baby boomers have a potentially dangerous 'it's not me' mentality about hepatitis C, and this survey underscores how poorly most people in that generation understand that risk factors do apply to them," said Ira M. Jacobson, MD, AGAF, chief, division of gastroenterology and hepatology and professor of medicine, The Joan Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and physician co-advisor to AGA's I.D. Hep C campaign. "Given the potentially deadly consequences of allowing hepatitis C to go undiagnosed, the AGA urges all baby boomers to talk to their doctors about getting tested."
To help combat the looming hepatitis C public health issue and address this knowledge gap, the AGA has launched I.D. Hep C, a new campaign to educate people, especially baby boomers, about hepatitis C and encourage them to speak up and get tested. By visiting www.IDHepC.org, people can learn more about hepatitis C and testing and get information on where to get tested — including free or low-cost screening events in some regions in the days surrounding National Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19). At www.IDHepC.org, the AGA is also encouraging people to show their commitment to stopping this silent killer by taking a virtual pledge to get tested and spread the word.
Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease that is spread through infected blood. Hepatitis C is responsible for about 15,000 deaths annually in the U.S., more than HIV. Liver damage from hepatitis C gets worse over time, and because many boomers have been infected for decades, the number of people who die from hepatitis C-related liver problems is expected to increase by 207 percent from 2000 to 2030.
The survey also revealed baby boomers are largely unaware of other important facts about hepatitis C:
- Eighty-three percent of baby boomers don't realize their generation is most likely to have hepatitis C. Instead, half (52 percent) believe all age groups have a similar risk and nearly one quarter (24 percent) think those in Generation X (ages 31 to 46) are more likely to have the disease.
- Fifty-five percent of baby boomers think every ethnic group has the same likelihood of having hepatitis C, even though African Americans and Hispanics are affected by hepatitis C at a significantly higher rate than the general population.,
- Fewer than one in five (18 percent) baby boomers know that for many people, hepatitis C can be cured.
"The disease can't be treated if people don't know they are infected. With treatment, the chance of a cure is greater than ever," said Michael Ryan, MD, clinical professor of medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School, practicing gastroenterologist with Digestive and Liver Disease Specialists of Norfolk, VA, and physician co-advisor to AGA's I.D. Hep C campaign. "I see every day the devastation hepatitis C can cause, especially to those who have lived with the disease for years without knowing it. Baby boomers shouldn't wait – they should talk to their doctors today about getting this simple test."
About the Survey Methodology*
This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of the AGA and Vertex from April 9-13, 2012, among 1,006 baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1965) not previously diagnosed with hepatitis C.
Additional survey findings are available at www.IDHepC.org.
About the Campaign
I.D. Hep C is a new campaign to educate people, especially baby boomers, about hepatitis C and encourage them to speak up and get tested to learn their status. By visiting www.IDHepC.org, people can take a virtual pledge to learn more and educate others about hepatitis C and testing and get information on where to get tested — including free or low-cost screening events in some regions in the days leading up to and following National Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19). At www.IDHepC.org, the AGA is also encouraging people to show their commitment to stopping this silent killer by taking a virtual pledge to get tested and spread the word. This campaign is funded by Vertex.
About Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus, which is spread through direct contact with the blood of infected people and ultimately affects the liver. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to serious and life-threatening liver problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. Though many people with hepatitis C may not experience symptoms, others may have symptoms such as fatigue, fever, jaundice and abdominal pain. 
People who are at risk for hepatitis C include:
- People born between born between 1945 and 1965.
- People who had blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992.
- People with tattoos or body piercings.
- People who used intravenous drugs, even once.
- People who work in a healthcare setting.
- People with HIV.
Unlike HIV and hepatitis B virus, for many people, chronic hepatitis C can be cured. More than 170 million people worldwide are chronically infected with hepatitis C. In the U.S., up to 5 million people have chronic hepatitis C and 75 percent of them are unaware of their infection. Hepatitis C is five times more prevalent in the U.S. compared to HIV. The majority of people with hepatitis C in the U.S. were born between 1945 and 1965, accounting for 82 percent of all people with the disease. In the U.S., hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplantations and is reported to contribute to 15,000 deaths annually.
About the AGA Institute
The American Gastroenterological Association is the trusted voice of the GI community. Founded in 1897, the AGA has grown to include 17,000 members from around the globe who are involved in all aspects of the science, practice and advancement of gastroenterology. The AGA Institute administers the practice, research and educational programs of the organization. www.gastro.org.
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SOURCE American Gastroenterological Association