The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines in August urging all baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) to get tested for hepatitis C.
The CDC began drafting recommendations for testing after it reported that the number of deaths related to hepatitis C had doubled since the late 1990s, reaching 15,000 in 2007, a number that exceeds AIDS deaths.
Hepatitis C is a virus that can be transmitted through contact with contaminated blood. The CDC said that previous testing was recommended only for people who were considered high risk, such as intravenous drug users, but that three-fourths of the deaths caused by the virus occurred in people age 45 to 64.
A survey by the American Gastroenterological Association found that nearly 75 percent of baby boomers have never been tested for hepatitis C, even though the age group represents 82 percent of those with the disease.
“Hepatitis C is not currently part of routine testing,” said Amber Gross, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner at King’s Daughters Medical Center’s Stone Street Primary Care in Morehead, Ky. “A positive antibody test may not mean you have an active infection, and damage would depend on patient’s risk factors.”
The CDC said that baby boomers who have had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 (general blood supply was not tested until 1992), who have tattoos or body piercings, who worked in a health care setting, have HIV or have used intravenous drugs are at a greater risk.
The virus can cause liver scarring, which can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer and is the leading cause of liver transplants, according to the CDC. It can remain symptomless for decades.
The CDC says short- and long-term treatments are available with early detection.
For more information about hepatitis C, ask your health care professional or visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov.