One of the central features of our blog is the fact that preventative healthcare is of utmost importance for seniors as it helps keep them out of hospitals, rehab centers and nursing facilities. Unfortunately, no matter how healthy we may live our lives, aging brings with it diseases that are just a part of the process.
Many of these diseases have been known for years and most insurance companies pay for screenings to address them. This includes tests like colonoscopies, mammograms, auditory evaluations and monitoring of cholesterol levels and blood pressure. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends a new screening test for the current crop of baby boomers – a hepatitis C (HCV) screening.
Let’s take a brief look at hepatitis in general and hepatitis C specifically.
Quite simply, hepatitis means an inflammation of the liver. This can be caused by alcohol, chemicals or an illness. The hepatitis that is of major concern to our seniors is viral hepatitis where a virus causes the liver to become inflamed and infected.
There are many forms of viral hepatitis that most of us are familiar with. Hepatitis A is usually a food borne illness caused by ingesting waste products of an infected organism. It can be spread by unsanitary conditions or food service workers not following safe hygiene procedures. Once infected with Hepatitis A, you cannot be infected again and the disease is usually mild and does not result in any long-term issues for most people.
Hepatitis B is sexually transmitted for the most part and does have serious side effects. There exists no cure for Hepatitis B and long-term chronic infection with this virus can cause serious issues including liver cancer.
The good news is that there is a vaccine for both A and B. Now let’s talk about Hepatitis C and the concerns for seniors.
Many have heard the term "baby boomers" which refers to those born between
1945 and 1965. Studies have shown that this group is 5 times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults. Infection with this virus can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. The problem here is that most people with hepatitis C do not know they are infected. Because many people can live with hepatitis C for decades without symptoms or feeling sick, testing is critical so those who are infected can get treated and cured.
Once infected, some people are able to clear, or get rid of, the virus. Most people, however, develop a chronic, or long-term, infection. Over time, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious health problems. In fact, hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and the leading cause of liver transplants.
So why are baby boomers afflicted more than others with Hepatitis C?
The reason appears to be linked with the drug use of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s when transmission of this virus was at its highest. Since Hep C is spread through blood and blood products, boomers could have become infected from medical and dental procedures in which unsanitary equipment was used. Others could have become infected from receiving contaminated blood products before wide spread screening eliminated this risk by 1992. Of course, those who used dirty needles to take illicit drugs are at the highest risk of having this infection.
Another way this virus could have been spread was the plethora of nail salons that popped up from the 1970s through today. Of particular concern are nail files, nail brushes, finger bowls, foot basins, buffers, razors, clippers and scissors. Hepatitis B and C are hearty viruses and can survive outside the body for a considerable period of time.
The CDC reports that Hep B can survive at least seven days on environmental surfaces while Hep C has the ability to cause infection up to three weeks outside the human body. Nail salon tools not cleaned and disinfected properly have the potential to transmit both Hep B and C. Today, most states have enacted strict sanitary laws for nail and hair salons.
The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to get tested. A blood test, called a hepatitis C antibody test, can tell if a person has ever been infected with the hepatitis C virus. This test looks for antibodies to the hepatitis C virus. Antibodies are chemicals released into the bloodstream when someone gets infected. When getting tested for hepatitis C, ask when and how test results will be shared.
There are two possible antibody test results:
Non-reactive, or a negative, means that a person does not have hepatitis C. However, if a person has been recently exposed to the hepatitis C virus, he or she will need to be tested again.
Reactive, or a positive, means that hepatitis C antibodies were found in the blood and a person has been infected with the hepatitis C virus at some point in time. A reactive antibody test does not necessarily mean a person has hepatitis C.
Once someone has been infected, they will always have antibodies in their blood. This is true if even if they have cleared the hepatitis C virus. A reactive antibody test requires an additional, follow-up test to determine if a person is currently infected with hepatitis C.
The good news is that many types of the Hepatitis C virus responds well to the new treatments available today. Just a few short years ago, using the word cure when speaking about Hepatitis C was a fantasy yet today, a cure is possible.
And the other good news is that Medicare will cover HCV screening tests if your PCP orders it. You will pay nothing for this test. So, if you are a boomer, ask your doctor if a test for the Hep C virus makes sense for you.
Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. also has a free presentation on HCV that is appropriate for seniors groups, families who take care of seniors and staff at long term care facilities.
Call us today at 1-855-724-9400.
Attorney Connelly practices in the area of elder law. This area of law involves Medicaid planning and asset protection advice for those individuals entering nursing homes, planning for the possibility of disability through the use of powers of attorney for the both health care and finances, guardianship, estate planning, probate and estate administration, preparation of wills, living trusts and special or supplemental needs trusts. He represents clients primarily in the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) in 2008. Attorney Connelly is licensed to practice before the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Federal Bars.