On the eve of the first ever National Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is issuing draft guidelines proposing that all US Baby Boomers get a one-time test for the hepatitis C virus. One in 30 Baby Boomers – the generation born from 1945 through 1965 – 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.
CDC says this approach will address the largely preventable consequences of this disease, especially in light of newly available therapies that can cure up to 75 percent of infections.
More than 2 million US Baby Boomers are infected with hepatitis C, accounting for more than 75% of all American adults living with the virus. Baby Boomers are five times more likely to be infected than other adults. Yet most infected Baby Boomers do not know they have the virus because hepatitis C can damage the liver for many years with few noticeable symptoms. More than 15,000 Americans, most of them Baby Boomers, die each year from hepatitis C-related illness, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, and deaths have been increasing steadily for over a decade and are projected to grow significantly in coming years.
Current CDC guidelines call for testing only individuals with certain known risk factors for hepatitis C infection. But studies find that many Baby Boomers do not perceive themselves to be at risk and are not being tested.
CDC estimates one-time hepatitis C testing of Baby 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.
CDC’s draft recommendations will be available for a public comment period from May 22 to June 8, 2012.
An important announcement tied to the first National Hepatitis Testing Day is the release of a $6.5 million funding opportunity announcement to expand testing of hepatitis B and hepatitis C, increase earlier diagnosis of individuals with infections, and enhance linkage to care, treatment and preventive services for people living with these infections.
Funded efforts will focus on groups that are disproportionately affected by the disease, including Asian-American Pacific Islander communities who have the highest rates of hepatitis B, and injection drug users and individuals born from 1945 to 1965 who are most affected by hepatitis C. These efforts align with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, which was released in May 2011.
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