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Hep C tests recommended for baby-boomer generation

Dr. Paul Hasselback -
Dr. Paul Hasselback
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Cowichan's baby boomers are being encouraged by the Canadian Liver Foundation to ask their GP's for blood work to rule out hepatitis C.

Canadians born between 1945 and 1975 are the target of a recent study which surveyed GP's across Canada. It found 35% of doctors didn't know much at all, if anything, about the symptoms of Hep C.

The Ipsos Reid survey also concluded 83% of the GP's agreed patients would benefit from more routine screening for hep C.

"We know 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," said Dr. Morris Sherman, chairman of the CLF and hepatologist at Toronto General Hospital.

"Given 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."

Baby boomers are up to five times more likely to be infected, yet are less likely than younger generations to have been tested, according to the survey.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, the island's regional medical health officer, signalled the testing recommendations are a good idea.

"If anyone's concerned they may have ever been exposed to Hep C, talking to your doctor could alleviate concerns," he said.

Hep-C blood tests have been recommended for some years for folks who've had blood transfusions, shared drug needles, or had work done at a dodgy body-piercing or tattoo parlours, Hasselback noted.

"There's probably a large number of people who may have been in contact with hep C, and may not know it."

There's in no vaccine for hep C.

Survey scores also show boomers know the least about the disease.

"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, hepatologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at Universite de Montreal.

"The large number of people infected, the asymptomatic nature of the disease and the serious consequences associated with it justify broader testing."

The hepatitis C antibody test is inexpensive and is covered by all provincial health-care plans.

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