All baby boomers should receive hepatitis C testing

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

One in 30 baby boomers — the generation born from 1945 through 1965 — has been infected with hepatitis C, and most do not know it, according to the CDC. 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.

The final recommendations are published in the Aug. 17 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Draft recommendations were issued in May, followed by a public comment period.

“A one-time blood test for hepatitis C should be on every baby boomer’s medical checklist,” CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a news release. “The new recommendations can protect the health of an entire generation of Americans and save thousands of lives.”

The CDC’s previous recommendations called for testing only individuals with certain known risk factors for hepatitis C infection. Risk-based screening will continue to be important, but is not sufficient, the CDC stated.

More than 2 million U.S. baby boomers are infected with hepatitis C, according to the CDC, accounting for more than 75% 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 never have been screened.

More than 15,000 Americans, most of them baby boomers, die each year from hepatitis C-related illness, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, according to the CDC. Deaths have been increasing steadily for over a decade and are projected to grow significantly in coming years.

The CDC estimates that 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% 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.

Comments received from individuals and organizations during the public comment period (May 22-June 8) overwhelmingly supported the CDC’s original proposal, according to the agency. As a result, the agency did not make substantive changes to the draft recommendations.

To read the final recommendations:

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