Hepatitis C tests urged for all baby boomers

Posted: May 19, 2012

The federal government Friday called for all baby boomers to be tested for hepatitis C, which kills more Americans each year than AIDS and is the leading reason for liver transplants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the recommendation to find hundreds of thousands of people who don't realize that they have the infection, which greatly increases their chances of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The hepatitis C virus is transmitted by blood, usually through intravenous drug use or transfusions. A blood test for it became widely available in 1992. Extremely small amounts of the virus are able to cause infection. Some experts believe that rolled-up dollar bills used to snort cocaine and passed person to person can carry enough infected blood to transmit the virus.

"Many baby boomers may not even remember the behaviors that put them at risk," said John Ward, head of the CDC's viral hepatitis division.

Epidemiologists estimate about 3.2 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, three-quarters of them baby boomers. The disease kills at least 15,000 people a year.

The CDC's strategy calls for a one-time voluntary blood test for everyone born from 1945 to 1965. The test would be done by doctors, clinics and hospitals as part of routine medical care. Hepatitis C tests now target mostly people who report high-risk activities or show signs of abnormal liver function.

The strategy could identify 800,000 new cases in baby boomers and prevent 120,000 hepatitis-related deaths in that age group, Ward said.

Treatment of hepatitis C infection takes at least six months and consists of pills and a weekly injection. The cure rate used to be less than 30 percent; with a new three-drug strategy, it can be as high as 75 percent.

Baby boomers are being targeted simply because they are the population group with by far the largest number of undetected cases.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|