Health officials urging baby boomers to test for hepatitis C

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Doctors for years have urged people with very specific risk factors — a history of intravenous drug use, needlestick injuries, or a medical record that includes a blood transfusion or organ transplant— to be tested for hepatitis C.

World Hepatitis DayBut now, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that all baby boomers be tested for the disease, saying that people born between 1945 and 1965 have the highest rate of infection and could benefit from early treatment.

In the past, recommendations for hepatitis C blood testing was recommended for individuals who had a history of one or more risk factors for this viral illness, namely parenteral (injectable) drug use, people who had received blood transfusions or blood products prior to the screening for the hep C virus, which wasn’t identified until 1965. Other at-risk behaviors included unprotected sex with high risk partners or caring for/living with someone known to have HCV.

Research has provided information in recent years to warrant the change in recommendation status to include suggesting testing for all people in the baby boomer generation. One statistic that supports the new recommendation is that 75 percent of all known chronic hepatitis C infections in the United States are diagnosed among baby boomers. Another fact is that most people with a hepatitis C infection don’t even know they have it.

Hepatitis C is the top cause of the need for liver transplants and is also the greatest single factor in the development of hepatic (liver) cancer.

The CDC also reports that a national health survey recently revealed that only 55 percent of people diagnosed with HCV relate a history of risky behavior. Some of that may be because people’s memories fade over time, but it also suggests that many hepatitis C infections were acquired through yet undetermined exposure.

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