Critics push back against hepatitis C screening advice, say boomers should be tested

CTV NEWS | The Canadian Press

TORONTO -- When Walter Buchanan learned his brother-in-law needed a liver transplant because of advanced cirrhosis caused by a long-undiagnosed infection with hepatitis C, he offered to donate part of his organ to save his life.

But Buchanan was shocked when doctors told him he couldn't be a donor -- tests revealed that he, too, carried the virus and that his liver was severely scarred, even though he'd experienced no symptoms.

"When they told me, my mind just went deep-six," he says from his home in Queensville, Ont, just north of Toronto. "And my first question was: 'OK, how long do I have?'

"That's what scares people the most about hep C, because people think 'Oh my God, it's a death sentence."'

Hepatitis C can indeed kill. Over time, the virus causes cirrhosis, which can lead to liver failure. About 10 per cent of those with advanced cirrhosis go on to develop liver cancer.

But damage from hepatitis C can take decades to manifest and cause noticeable symptoms; many people have no idea they harbour the virus -- hence its moniker as a "silent killer." Continue reading
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