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Vietnam vets and Hep C

Vietnam veterans or baby boomers should have themselves checked for hepatitis C. Photo credit: Tom Cramer

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Ignorance is not bliss - particularly when it comes to the hepatitis C virus.

A blood-borne disease discovered in 1989, hepatitis C, or hep C, is just beginning to be noticed, especially among baby boomers, those individuals born between 1945 and 1965.

Many baby boomers have been infected for 20 years or more, but show no symptoms.

Give it time; the symptoms will eventually appear.

Not surprisingly, servicemembers who served during the Vietnam War (1954-1973) are emerging as having a significant number of cases of the infection.

"During the Vietnam War era, tens of thousands of servicemembers were inadvertently infected with the hepatitis C virus," said Thomas Berger, executive director of the Veterans Health Council at Vietnam Veterans of America, during Congressional hearings.

Exposure to the virus comes through blood transfusions with contaminated blood, shared needles and battlefield blood exposure. The Veterans Administration also admits there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the jet injector guns used to inoculate servicemembers may have contributed to the spread of the virus among veterans.

Currently, some 3.5 million Americans are infected, including an estimated 234,000 veterans. Ruthless if left untreated, hep C causes severe liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and death. More people die of hep C than human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Hep C claims approximately 19,000 lives annually, and a significant number of them are veterans. More precisely, about one in 10 Vietnam veterans has hep C and is not aware of it.  

Moreover, hep C testing is currently not a part of routine blood work; the test for the virus has to be asked for specifically.

Start asking.  This fight is winnable.

"Recent breakthroughs in medicine have led to new treatment options for veterans with hep C," continued Berger.

Cure rates are around 95 percent, and an average length of treatment is 12 weeks. Vietnam veterans, as well as any other veterans who are baby boomers, should have themselves checked for hep C.

For more information, visit or call 844.4.HEPCHOPE.

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