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CDC: Test All Boomers For Hepatitis C

Seeking to contain a looming health care crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has drafted a new recommendation that calls for all adults between the ages of 47 to 67 to be tested for Hepatitis C (HCV).

Who Should Be Tested
For Hepatitis C?

Proposed recommendation:

  • Anyone born from 1945 through 1965

Current guidelines:

  • Anyone who has ever injected illegal drugs
  • Recipients of blood transfusions or solid organ transplants before July 1992, or clotting factor concentrates made before 1987
  • Patients who have ever received long-term hemodialysis treatment
  • Persons with known exposures to hepatitis C, such as:
    • Health care workers after needle sticks involving blood from a patient with hepatitis C
    • Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C
  • People living with HIV
  • People with signs or symptoms of liver disease
  • Children born to mothers who have hepatitis C

A life-threatening viral liver infection, HCV affects more than four million Americans; 17,000 cases are newly diagnosed every year and 12,000 deaths from HCV-related illnesses occur. The majority infected are Boomers, the generation born between 1945 and 1965. New treatments are available, but HCV can be symptomless for years, and most of those who acquired the infection in their teens and early 20s are unaware of their illness.

The longer HCV goes undetected, the greater the risk of developing serious and deadly liver diseases. These include cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Liver failure caused by HCV is one of the most common reasons for liver transplants.

HCV kills at least 15,000 Americans a year. The CDC anticipates that medical costs associated with the disease could soon more than double from $30 billion to $80 billion per year (see Viral Hepatitis: Hidden Epidemic). The agency believes a one-time blood test would identify 800,000 infections and that resulting treatment would prevent 120,000 deaths.

Current CDC recommendations focus on testing people with known HCV risk factors (see sidebar.) The new recommendation that all boomers be tested is available for comment through June 8th and will be finalized later this year.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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