By Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — All Americans born from 1945 through 1965 should get a one-time test for hepatitis C, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended last month.More than 2 million U.S. baby boomers are infected with hepatitis C — and most of them don’t know it. They account for more than 75 percent of all American adults living with the virus. 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.CDC cites studies showing that many baby boomers were infected with the virus decades ago, do not perceive themselves to be at risk, and have never been screened.The new recommendations are aimed at identifying more hidden infections among those most affected by the disease and reducing the rising toll of hepatitis C-related illness and death in the United States. The new recommendations expand CDC’s risk-based recommendations, which called for testing only people with certain known risk factors for hepatitis C infection. Risk-based screening will continue to be important, but that approach alone is not sufficient.CDC estimates one-time hepatitis C testing of baby boomers could identify more than 800,000 additional people with hepatitis C. And with newly available therapies that can cure up to 75 percent of infections, expanded testing — along with linkage to appropriate care and treatment — would prevent the costly consequences of liver cancer and other chronic liver diseases and save more than 120,000 lives.“A one-time blood test for hepatitis C should be on every baby boomer’s medical checklist,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “The new recommendations can protect the health of an entire generation of Americans and save thousands of lives.”The expanded recommendations have been finalized after a public comment period and were published in the Aug. 17 issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.CDC has also updated its online Hepatitis Risk Assessment to include the new age cohort recommendation. This confidential tool — at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment — allows individuals to determine their risk for viral hepatitis by answering questions privately, either in their home or a health care setting. They can then print tailored recommendations based on CDC’s testing and vaccination guidelines for viral hepatitis to discuss with their doctor.
Ronald Valdiserri is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, and director of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.