CDC: Get tested for hepatitis C, baby boomers

All baby boomers should get tested for hepatitis C, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in new guidelines released today.

The CDC wants anyone born from 1945 to 1965 to get a one-time blood test to see if they have the liver-destroying virus. That's because the disease can take decades to cause liver damage, and many people don't know they're harboring the blood-borne virus.

Baby boomers account for about two-thirds of the 3.2 million Americans thought to be infected.

The recommendation should not come as a surprise for many Americans. This May, the CDC released a draft of the recommendations encouraging all baby boomers to get tested. The new finalized recommendations appear in the August 17 issue of the CDC's journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

CDC officials took the step after seeing a near doubling of hepatitis C deaths since the late 1990s. That report found there were 15,000 deaths caused by hepatitis C in 2007, far more than previous rates and surpassing AIDS deaths. Three-fourths of the hepatitis deaths occurred in people ages 45 to 64, and the CDC said those numbers are likely to grow over the next 15 years unless health officials intervene.

"Asking someone about a risk that happened 20 to 30 years ago is a lot to ask," Dr. John Ward, the CDC's hepatitis chief, said at the time of the draft recommendations.

Testing all baby boomers is that new strategy.

Previously, testing was recommended only for people considered at highest risk. It's most commonly spread today by sharing needles to inject illegal drugs.

Hepatitis C is a virus that can be transmitted through contact with contaminated blood - possibly through shared needles - that attacks the liver and leads to inflammation. While the disease may not produced signs or symptoms in early stages, some people may experience mild symptoms like fatigue, fever, nausea or poor appetite, muscle and joint pains, or abdominal tenderness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Chronic hepatitis C infections can eventually lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver after 20 to 30 years or liver failure. Recent research has also tied the disease to causing cancers, including gastric and liver cancers.


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