Baby Boomers Should Get Tested For Hepatitis C
August 17, 2012

CDC Recommends Hepatitis C Testing For Baby Boomers

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised that around two million baby boomers should get examined for the hepatitis C virus. Leaving the virus untreated can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The recommendation was included in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

To begin, CDC officials stated that many people weren´t aware that they were infected with the virus and it can take decades for the virus to cause damage to the liver or for symptoms to appear. They could eventually develop liver disease unless they were treated and cleared the virus from the body. In particular, the agency wanted to focus on people were born between 1945 to 1965 because they have five percent more chance of carrying the hepatitis C virus.

"We had an epidemic of hepatitis C transmission in the '70s and '80s, and we're now seeing an epidemic of hepatitis C disease," Dr. John Ward, director of the CDC´s viral hepatitis division, told NPR.

According to NPR, one in 30 baby boomers is infected with the virus, with thousands dying due to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Many baby boomers used injected drugs earlier in their lives, leading to a number of people infected with the virus. Baby boomers account for approximately two-thirds of the 3.2 million infected people in the U.S. and with three percent of the population tested positive for the virus.

"Testing of Baby Boomers is essential to prevent unnecessary suffering and death from this devastating disease, and to reduce the burden of hepatitis C on our nation's health-care system," remarked Ward in a U.S. News article.

As well, the hepatitis C virus can be passed from one person to another by sharing needles. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that virus infection can also occur via tattoos, piercings, manicures, sniffed cocaine, or shared razor blades and toothbrushes. Before blood supply screenings were done in 1992, the virus was also transmitted through blood transfusions and organ transplants. A blood test is the one way that individuals can discover if they have hepatitis C. Over time, the infection will cause scarring of the liver, eventually developing into cirrhosis or liver cancer before symptoms appear.

"Even at the time of infection, it often does not cause any symptoms," continued Ward in the NPR article.

Previously, the CDC only recommended that people with known risk factors participate in testing for the virus. Patients had to let their doctors know if they were at risk. However, one issue the doctors have encountered is that patients dislike speaking about behavior that could be associated with a hepatitis C virus infection. This reluctance to talk about past behavior can have serious health consequences.

"When I meet a patient who shows up with a liver cancer or shows up at the point where they need a liver transplant it's especially poignant, because I know that if we'd identified them a few years ago we could have treated them and prevented this from happening," explained Dr. Andrew Muir, director of hepatology at Duke University, in the NPR article.

Medical experts hope that more people will seek treatment now that screenings are extended to everyone in a particular age group.

"Getting more people with hepatitis C into treatment could avoid 50,000 cases of liver cancer, nearly 200,000 cases of cirrhosis and more than 102,000 deaths," Ward continued in the U.S. News article.

Furthermore, new drugs can also help patients clear out the virus from their system. USA Today reports that two drugs were sold on the market last year that could possibly cure more people than previously expected. Previous treatments have been expensive, costing up to $100,000. Another issue about treatment is that it runs over a long period of 48 weeks and has negative side effects such as chills, fevers, depression, muscle aches, and vomiting.

The CDC offered new guidelines for hepatitis C virus testing and will finalize the recommendation shortly.

"Unless we take action, we project deaths will increase substantially," commented CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden in a Bloomberg Businessweek article.