By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger
When it comes to Hepatitis C (HCV), people in America have long assumed that it was (and is) a Baby Boomer problem. Recent statistics, however, indicate that a rapidly increasing number of new HCV diagnoses are linked to Injection Drug Use (IDU), and that IDUs will likely lead to an exponential explosion of new infections compared to previous years. With that reporting, however, a stigma has arisen amongst the Baby Boomer population (the Birth Cohort), leading some in the cohort to avoid screening for the disease. Research published in March 2016 (Joy, 2016), however, indicates that HCV infections within the Birth Cohort is much more likely to have arisen from unsafe medical practices on behalf of doctors and hospitals, rather than any lifestyle choices made on the part of patients.
The research, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, was conducted by scouring over 45,000 documents and records, examining 45,316 sequences of HCV Genotype 1a – the most common strain – and then used a technique called “phylogentic analysis” to focus on five HCV genes and trace the dynamics of the HCV epidemic. The results suggest that the initial peak of the HCV epidemic – the time when initial infection and introduction of the disease in the Birth Cohort – occurred between 1948 and 1963, far earlier than many had suggested.
These infections are most likely related to the techniques and equipment that medical professionals used in the post-World War II (WWII) era, prior to the establishment of safer technologies, equipment, blood screening, and techniques that came about in the wake of the initial HIV crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. Strict blood screening techniques were not, in fact, common place until the U.S. government mandated the practice in 1992. As such, anyone who received a blood transfusion or underwent invasive medical procedures prior to that year may have been exposed to HCV, and should be screened for the virus.
Stigmata are nothing new, however, for the Birth Cohort. This is a group who helped to push the sexual revolution and drug use of the 1960s and 70s, and began having children in the 1980s. During this time, reports of sexually transmitted diseases and viruses, as well as transmission via IDU, began gaining more media exposure, both of which gained a level of ignominy in the 1980s in relation to HIV. We must remember that many media reports indicated that HIV only impacted those in the “4 ‘H’ Club” – Heroin users, Hookers, Haitians, and Homosexuals. When this type of branding in the media and in government conversations occurs, stigmata arise that leads to people avoiding testing and treatment.
Since that time, however, infectious diseases have undergone something of facelift, with multi-million-dollar ad campaigns and outreach programs on the part of pharmaceutical companies and governments trying to spread the word about getting tested. These efforts are part of a concerted effort to reduce the stigma associated with chronic illnesses and infectious diseases that are both costly to treat and incredibly harmful to those living with them if they go untreated.
For the Birth Cohort, however, to feel as if they should be lumped in with what many view as an unsavory crowd simply goes counter to the reality of the epidemic. Screening for HCV isn’t just something that applies to those who practice risky behavioral patterns; rather, it should be something that is routine within the Birth Cohort, so that they can cure HCV and live their waning years without the concern of HCV-related illnesses and co-morbidities.
- Joy, J., McCloskey, R., Nguyen, T., Liang, R., Khudyakov, Y., & Olmstead, A., et al. (2016, March 30). The spread of hepatitis C virus genotype 1a in North America: a retrospective phylogenetic study. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 16(6), 698-702. doi:10.1016/s1473-3099(16)00124-9. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(16)00124-9
Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.