"I think for this to really have an effect, it's got to be driven from both the provider side and the consumer side," says Michael Ninburg, executive director of the Hepatitis Education Project, based in Seattle. "We don't have the luxury of time here," he says, noting that boomers are quickly aging into Medicare and, in some cases, out of eligibility requirements for treatment.
If you do have the virus, you'll need to see a hepatologist or gastroenterologist, says Ryan Ford, a transplant hepatologist with Emory Healthcare, associated with Emory University in Atlanta. But Ford says patients ought not panic. Even if you are infected with hepatitis C, that doesn't necessarily mean you have liver damage, which puts you at risk for cirrhosis, the final stage of liver disease, and liver cancer, he says. If cirrhosis hasn't set in, today's medications are both better tolerated and more effective. "You could argue several years ago that testing people for hepatitis C may not have changed the outcome," he says.
"It's a curable condition now," Ninburg says. This "next generation of therapy"—drugs that were approved last year—have brought the cure rate from 40 to 75 percent. "We have the potential to eliminate hepatitis C in this country," he says."You can get treated and cured, but first you have to get tested and diagnosed."
Learn more about testing and treatment for hepatitis C through these resources:
• The CDC's "Know More Hepatitis" Campaign: http://www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis/
• The Support Partnership: www.help4hep.org and 877-HELP-4-HEP (877-435-7443)
• Hepatitis Education Project: www.hepeducation.org
• National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable: http://nvhr.org/
• HealthPro: www.healthpro.us