Boomers Should be Tested for Hepatitis C

Pamela A. MacLean

As many as one in 30 American baby boomers are infected with Hepatitis C, but most don't know it, according to the National Centers for Disease Control.  Anyone born between 1945 and 1965 -- boomers, by the CDC definition -- should add a one-time test for Hepatitis C to their health care plans, the agency recommended in a report issued Thursday.

The announcement marks a change from prior CDC testing standards that limited testing to high risk populations.  The new recommendation comes as part of a CDC plan to avert significant increases in liver disease and death in the U.S., as a result of the disease. 

"Hepatitis C is linked to serious liver diseases, including liver cancer (the fastest-rising cuase of cancer-related deaths) and is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States," according to the CDC.

"A one-time blood test for hepatitis C should be on every baby boomer's medical checklist," said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden.  The testing could save thousands of lives.

The more than 2 million boomers living with Hepatitis C were infected decades ago and do not perceive themselves at risk so have not been screened.  The Hepatitis C virus is one of the most common chronic bloodborne infections in the U.S.  Roughly 3.2 million people are infected, according to the CDC. It is not easily transmitted sexually, but it can be.  More likely risks for infection include injection drug use, people who received blood clotting concentrates produced before 1987, received transfusions or organ transplants or were ever on long-term heodialysis.

An estimated 17,000 people were newly infected with Hep C virus in 2010, according to the CDC study published in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Americans, most in the boomer age range, die annually from Hepatitis C-related illness, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.  Deaths have increased steadily in the last decade and are projected to grow significantly in coming years.

The one-time testing could find as many as 800,000 additional people with the disease and provide an opportunity for treatment.  New therapies can cure up to 75 percent of infections, according to the CDC.

If people who test positive receive appropriate care and treatment, that could prevent the consequences of liver cancer and chronic liver disease and could save more than 120,000 lives, the CDC stated.