CDC Recommendation: Test ‘Boomers’ For Hepatitis C
By Dr. James Palermo // May 21, 2012
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 3% of Americans born between 1945 and 1965, better known as the “Baby Boomer” generation, are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Because of recent medical breakthroughs in the management of, with possibility even of a cure for, the viral infection, the CDC is recommending that all “Boomers” be tested for HCV.
HCV An Unrecognized Health Crisis
HCV causes progressive scarring of the liver, may lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer, and is the leading cause of liver transplant. The CDC estimates that more than 15,000 Americans die annually from hepatitis C-related illnesses.
With over two million “Boomers” believed to be infected, which accounts for 75% of hepatitis C infected Americans, the draft CDC recommendations released last Friday suggest that one-time HCV testing of those born in the 20 years after WWII 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.
HCV infection can take decades to cause liver damage, and many people are not aware of the infection. Like other preventive screening tests to detect disease at an early treatable stage such as for prostate cancer, the agency also said of the HCV testing, “This approach will address the largely preventable consequences of this disease, especially in light of newly available therapies that can cure up to 75% of infections.”
Dr. John W. Ward, the CDC’s hepatitis chief said, “The CDC views this as an unrecognized health crisis and we needed to take a bold action because current strategies weren’t working.”
Global Generational Risk
Most boomers do not have the risk factors that, until now, the CDC had used as the basis for testing recommendations, including use of illegal injected drugs, receiving blood products or organ transplants before HCV testing became routine, known exposures to HCV, presence of hepatitis symptoms, and all patients with HIV.
However, Vietnam-era vets and all members of the “Boomer” generation are a well-known risk group due to blood exposure in military field hospitals as well as drug use.
Although as many as a quarter of infected “Boomers” say they don’t recall engaging in a risky behavior, it’s possible some people were infected in ways other than injection drug use or long-ago blood transfusions. Tattoos, shared razor blades and tooth brushes, piercings, sniffed cocaine, and even manicures have been identified as sources for transmission of HCV.
Testing all “Boomers” for HCV has been very favorably received by the medical community, and the new testing recommendation is expected to become final later this year.
If you’re a “Boomer” like me, you are sure to hear more about this from your physician, and should seriously consider being tested.