Common infections can happen to anyone, but there are a few infections that more commonly occur in individuals of the baby boomer generation (born between the years 1945-1965). Hepatitis C can infect people of all ages, but research has found that seventy-five percent of all Hep C patients are baby boomers. Hepatitis C is a blood infection that can damage the liver by causing inflammation or swelling that can lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis or liver failure if not treated. Most people who have hepatitis C will not experience symptoms and can have it for years before being diagnosed.
The CDC recommends all baby boomers be tested for Hep C, but risk factors that may be a sign to get tested include:
- Exposure to unsterile needles or shared needles
- Diagnosed with HIV
- Received a piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using unsterile equipment
- Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
- Were born to a woman with a hepatitis C infection
Even if you have none of these risk factors, it is still important to talk to your primary care provider about getting tested since nearly half of infected people don't have or recall any risk factors. After a simple blood test, your physician can recommend treatment if necessary. Current antiviral medication taken over 12 weeks or even as short as 8 weeks in some cases can cure your body of hepatitis C.
Another infection that is most commonly found in people of the baby boomer generation or older is shingles. Shingles is an infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox that has reactivated later in life. Common signs of shingles include:
- Pain that starts as a tingling numbness and becomes more severe in some cases
- A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
- Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
One in three individuals over 60 will have shingles in their lifetime, but a new vaccine is coming out next year that aims to reduce that rate. This new vaccine will be available to all individuals 50 and over and is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles, which is much better than the current vaccine.
Dr. Robert Comer is an infectious disease specialist at the Cone Health’s Regional Center for Infectious Disease. Dr. Comer received medical training in internal medicine and pediatrics at Baystate/Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts and fellowship training in infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He has completed additional training at the Gorgas Medical Institute in Lima, Peru.