New research says hep C epidemic not caused by 1960s sex and drug lifestyle

Dr. Jeff Joy says hep C infection in baby boomers has incorrectly been stigmatized as being a result of 1960s sex and drug lifestyle.

Peak of hep C infection epidemic actually occurred in 1950, not 1965 as previously thought

New research says Hep C infections in baby boomers peaked in 1950, not in the sex-and-drugs era of the 1960s and previously thought. (Valentin Flauraud/Reuters)

A new study, worked on by B.C. researchers, says baby boomers living a sex and drug lifestyle in the 1960s aren't to blame for hepatitis C infections in their demographic.

In fact, the research suggests all baby boomers should be tested for the hep C virus because widespread hospital practices predating the 1950's likely led to many accidental transmissions.

Dr. Jeff Joy says hep C infections in baby boomers have incorrectly been stigmatized as being linked to a sex and drug lifestyle. (SFU.ca)

"Hepatitis C among baby boomers has been previously linked to sex and drugs," said Dr. Jeff Joy, lead author. "As such, [hep C] testing has long carried a substantial stigma. Our results should go a long way to remove this persistent barrier to testing among baby boomers."

Researchers from the BC Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back-dated 40,000 cases of hep C and discovered the peak of the infection epidemic actually occurred in 1950, not 15 years later during the height of the North American sex and drug revolution, as was previously thought.

Inadequate hospital sterilization

The findings suggest an increase in medical procedures post World War II and inadequate hospital sterilization of reusable needles and syringes are the culprits.

They are consistent with research from other locations such as France, Italy, Japan and Russia which showed hep C infection rates leveled off when disposable needles and syringes became the norm.

"Reduced stigma will facilitate widespread testing and timely access to life-saving treatment," said Dr. Julio Montaner, Director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

Hepatitis C infection can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer and other serious conditions. 

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