Blog | Monday, September 30, 2013

New hepatitis C screening recommended for baby boomers

If baby boomers weren’t special enough, now the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has singled them out as a special group to be screened for hepatitis C virus (HCV). Individuals born between 1945 and 1965 are recommended to undergo this one-time blood test screening because they are at high risk for the virus.

What is it about this age group that gets special notice? According to the Centers for Disease Control, baby boomers account for three out of four people with HCV. Many of them contracted hepatitis C from blood transfusions or needle procedures before we had a screening test for the virus. Others may have caught it from high risk behaviors like injecting drugs, HIV or piercing or tattoos in unclean environments. It is less common to contract it through sexual relations, but it can happen.

We have had a test that could screen for hepatitis C antigen for many years but only recently are we able to treat chronic hepatitis C with anti-viral medications. There is an increased incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) in people who acquired HCV two to four decades earlier and many people have no idea that they are carrying the virus. It is hoped that by screening patients in this age group, patients can be identified at earlier stages of disease and receive treatment before developing complications from liver damage.

HCV infection is the leading cause of complications from chronic liver disease. More than 30% of U.S. adults that receive liver transplants have HCV.

Baby boomers just need to undergo screening once.

This post originally appeared at Everything Health. Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, is an ACP Internist editorial board member who blogs at EverythingHealth, designed to address the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st Century.