The `silent epidemic’ is about to get rocked, as public health officials are on the verge of recommending that millions of Americans get a one-time test for hepatitis C virus regardless of risk factors.
Calling HCV “an unrecognized health crisis,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has drafted a recommendation calling for millions of Americans to get tested for a liver disease that can insidiously progress in the absence of symptoms. And while newly available treatments can cure the majority of HCV cases, most people do not seek care because they do not know they are infected, the CDC noted.
The prime target of the recommendation: “baby boomers” born form 1945 to 1965. To give that a frame of reference, those that were roughly four to 24 years old in 1969 when the National Anthem was played by Jimi Hendrix on the stage at Woodstock. The CDC estimates that most of the 3.2 million Americans currently infected with HCV fall into this age group.
“Many baby boomers were infected with hepatitis C when they were in their teens and twenties,” the CDC stated. “Some may have become infected through blood transfusions or other health care exposures before universal precautions and widespread blood screening began in 1992. Others may have become infected from experimentation with drug use, even if only once decades ago. Because these exposures were often long ago, many baby boomers may not recall — or may be unwilling to discuss — the events that could have placed them at risk. As a result, many have never been tested for hepatitis C.”
Diagnosing HCV early is key, since the longer the virus goes undetected, the greater a person’s risk of developing serious liver disease, including liver cancer and cirrhosis. Deaths due to HCV are increasing, reaching more than 15,000 in 2007. The CDC’s current public health recommendations focus on testing only those with known HCV risk factors, including those who have ever injected illegal drugs, long-term hemodialysis patients, people with HIV, and children born to HIV-infected mothers.
The new draft recommendations will be available for public comment from May 22 – June 8, 2012, and will be finalized later in the year.
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