August 17, 2012
All baby boomers should receive a one-time test for hepatitis C virus, according to final CDC recommendations announced on Thursday. About 3 percent of baby boomers -- those born from 1945 to 1965 -- are infected with HCV. Those who have not been screened should get the blood test during their next visit to the doctor, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC's director.
Baby boomers are five times more likely to have HCV than other adults. Many of those with the blood-borne virus do not know they are infected, because symptoms can take decades to emerge. HCV, which can gradually scar the liver and lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer, is the leading cause of liver transplants.
Before widespread testing of blood donations began in 1992, HCV could be spread through blood transfusions. Today it is commonly transmitted through sharing needles to inject drugs. Some experts suggest that in some cases HCV could have spread through routes including shared razors and toothbrushes, manicures or sniffed cocaine.
Testing baby boomers can help avert major increases of liver disease and deaths -- especially since two new drugs can cure many more people than older therapies. Of the estimated 3.2 million Americans with HCV, about two-thirds are baby boomers.
Deaths from HCV-related diseases have almost doubled from 1999 to 2007 and now amount to more than 15,000 U.S. mortalities annually. "Unless we take action, we project deaths will increase substantially," Frieden said.
The new approach is "a bold and important move," said Dr. Andrew Muir, a Duke University physician and leader of an advocacy group, the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable. "I have met too many patients who were diagnosed with hepatitis C at the time they developed liver cancer or when they needed a liver transplant."
[PNU editor's note: "Recommendations for the Identification of Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection Among Persons Born During 1945-1965" was published in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Recommendations and Reports (2012;61(RR04);1-18).]