An entire generation of people is being asked to take a one-time blood test for hepatitis C, and here’s why: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that one in 30 baby boomers has the virus and doesn’t know it.
The extraordinary recommendation follows the CDC’s original proposal that only people with risk factors for the virus get tested. But several national studies have found people born between 1945 and 1965 have a higher incidence of playing host to hepatitis C antibodies. They account for about three-fourths of all people in the U.S. who are living with the virus.
“A one-time blood test for hepatitis C should be on every baby boomer’s medical checklist,” CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a news release. “The new recommendations can protect the health of an entire generation of Americans and save thousands of lives.”
The agency hopes that if the testing message goes viral, potentially 800,000 more people who have hep-C could be identified. The CDC said 15,000 people in the U.S., most of them boomers, die every year from diseases caused by hepatitis C, such as liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.
This generation is particularly vulnerable because some boomers may have shared needles back in the day, before it was known that doing so is a way to transmit diseases. Boomers may have also gotten blood transfusions before blood donation screenings went into effect.
The disease can lie low in the body for years, Dr. Tram Tran, medical director of liver transplant and hepatology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told TakePart.
“If you’re not specifically testing for hepatitis C,” she said, “blood and liver tests may be normal.”
Inflammation caused by the virus can do a number on the liver, she said, leading to serious problems like cirrhosis.
The timing of the recommendation coincides with the availability of two new drugs that work in combination with existing treatments (some injected) to help eradicate the virus. Both new drugs are protease inhibitors, which stop viruses from replicating. The treatments can cure up to 75 percent of hepatitis C cases, the CDC said, potentially saving 120,000 lives.
Are you a baby boomer who plans on getting tested, or will you urge a boomer to get tested? Let us know in the comments.