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CDC advises all baby boomers be tested for hepatitis C

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing draft guidelines proposing that all U.S. baby boomers get a one-time test for the hepatitis C virus.

Hepatitis[1]One in 30 boomers – born from 1946 through 1964 – has been infected with hepatitis C, and most don’t know it. Hepatitis C causes serious liver diseases including liver cancer, which is the fastest-rising cause of cancer-related deaths, and the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.

The CDC believes testing will address the largely preventable consequences of this disease, especially since new therapies can cure up to 75 percent of infections.

“With increasingly effective treatments now available, we can prevent tens of thousands of deaths from hepatitis C,” CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said in a statement.

More than 2 million U.S. baby boomers are infected with hepatitis C, accounting for more than 75 percent of all American adults living with the virus. Boomers are five times more likely to be infected than other adults. Yet most infected boomers don’t know they have the virus because hepatitis C can damage the liver for many years with few noticeable symptoms.

More than 15,000 Americans, mostly boomers, die each year from hepatitis C-related illness, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. Deaths have been increasing steadily for more than a decade and are projected to grow significantly in coming years.

“Identifying these hidden infections early will allow more baby boomers to receive care and treatment, before they develop life-threatening liver disease,” said Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention.

Current CDC guidelines call for testing only individuals with certain known risk factors for hepatitis C infection. But studies find that many boomers don’t perceive themselves to be at risk and aren’t being tested.

The CDC estimates one-time hepatitis C testing of boomers could identify more than 800,000 additional people with hepatitis C, prevent the costly consequences of liver cancer and other chronic liver diseases, and save more than 120,000 lives.

The CDC’s draft recommendations are available for a public comment period until June 8.

For additional information about hepatitis, visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.

Copyright 2012, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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