CDC: Baby boomers should get hepatitis C test

ATLANTA -- All baby boomers should get a one-time blood test for the hepatitis C virus, according to final recommendations published this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One in 30 baby boomers has been infected with hepatitis C, and most don't know it, according to a press release issued by CDC. The baby boomer generation are those born from 1945 through 1965 who are currently between 47 and 67 years old. Hepatitis C causes serious liver diseases, including liver cancer, the fastest-rising cause of cancer-related deaths, and is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.

According to CDC, risk-based screening will continue to be important, but is not sufficient alone. More than 2 million U.S. baby boomers are infected with hepatitis C, accounting for more than 75 percent of all American adults living with the virus. Studies show that many baby boomers were infected with the virus decades ago, do not perceive themselves to be at risk and have never been screened.

CDC estimates one-time hepatitis C testing of baby boomers could identify more than 800,000 additional people with hepatitis C. With newly available therapies that can cure up to 75 percent of infections, expanded testing -- along with linkage to appropriate care and treatment -- would prevent the costly consequences of liver cancer and other chronic liver diseases and save more than 120,000 lives, according to the CDC.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs, according to CDC. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best prevention method is to avoid behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injection drug use, according to CDC.

The CDC Foundation's Viral Hepatitis Action Coalition is a public-private partnership developed by the CDC Foundation to help CDC make meaningful advances in the prevention, screening and treatment of viral hepatitis.

The Viral Hepatitis Action Coalition has produced a video stories project, Faces of Hepatitis, to support CDC's efforts to raise awareness about the disease and who is at risk. In line with CDC's new testing recommendations, the videos show stories of baby boomers with hepatitis C. Faces of Hepatitis helps illustrate that viral hepatitis is not just one story, or face or voice, but many.

Members of the coalition have also helped CDC launch Know More Hepatitis, CDC's multimedia campaign to educate health care providers and baby boomers about the new testing recommendations. As part of the campaign, CDC developed an online risk assessment tool, which can be found at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment, to help people determine their risk for viral hepatitis.

In addition to education activities, members of the coalition have provided grants to the CDC Foundation to support CDC-led hepatitis research projects. A study called the Chronic Hepatitis Cohort Study is the largest observational cohort study of persons in care for viral hepatitis in the country. Through the multi-year study, CDC monitors more than 10,000 HCV infected patients to learn more about disease progression, clinical management practices, and the impact of care and treatment on patients' health. Moving forward, CDC will use data from the study to evaluate the health impact of the new testing recommendations and to inform future testing, care, and treatment guidelines to ensure that more persons living with viral hepatitis get the help they need.