ATLANTA - If you were walking around with a disease that was gradually destroying your liver, you'd know it, right?
Maybe not, says Dr. Brian Pearlman, Medical Director of the Center for Hepatitis C at WellStar Atlanta Medical Center.
Pearlman says most people infected with chronic Hepatitis C have no idea they're sick.
"They feel fine," Dr. Pearlman says. "They go to work. They raise their kids. Some will have a little fatigue, but then again, there are so many entities that could cause fatigue.
And, most patients will not have any symptoms, unfortunately, until they're well beyond cirrhosis or even at the point of transplantation."
Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with blood from an infected person.
About 3.5 million Americans have the virus, and 75 percent of them are baby boomers.
Why baby boomers?
Pearlman says they were likely infected before universal safety precautions were put into place in hospitals and widespread screening of the blood supply virtually eliminated Hepatitis C back in 1992.
So Dr. Pearlman says anyone who received a blood transfusion, blood products or underwent organ transplant surgery before 1992 is at "very, very high risk."
Sharing needles during IV drug use can also lead to infection.
If you were born between 1945 and 1965, the CDC says get tested for Hepatitis C,
and don't assume you're already being screened.
"Because one misconception I get is, 'Well, I get checked out each year for various ailments,'" Dr. Pearlman says. "And, the reality is, Hepatitis C, unless the provider is thinking about it, he or she may not be checking for that disease. So it isn't always a given."
The good news, is Hepatitis C is treatable, and Dr. Pearlman says, curable.
"Cured in the sense that it will not come back, unless the patients get re-infected, which is always a risk," Pearlman says. "But it is curable. It's is virtually eliminated once you take the medication successfully."