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Experts Propose Age-Based Hepatitis C Testing

Screening People Born From 1946 to 1970 Would Prevent Advanced Disease, Model Shows; Other Experts Want More Evidence
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Hepatitis C Testing: The Disease Model continued...

Health care workers who have needlestick injuries when caring for an infected person can also become infected.

Using the model, the researchers determined how many people would be infected and undiagnosed without age-based screening. They computed how far the disease would have progressed.

Next, they looked at the effect of screening the entire population in that age range. They looked at how screening and detection would affect progression to advanced liver disease, if infected, and to death.

Age-based screening is worth it, they conclude.

''The age-based screening program could prevent more than 100,000 cases of advanced liver disease and save almost 60,000 lives over the course of the lifetime of this group born from 1946 to 1970," McGarry tells WebMD.

It would prevent more than 7,000 liver transplants, McGarry tells WebMD.

The eligible population, she estimates, would be about 101 million.

The test is a blood test and costs about $30, she says. It detects antibodies to the virus. If that test is positive, a second test is done to confirm.

Earlier treatment due to earlier detection would result in a net cost saving to the  health care system, the researchers say.

Age-Based Hepatitis C Testing: Other Views

Currently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which issues recommendations on testing and other health issues, does not recommend routine testing, says Virginia Moyer, MD, chair of the task force.

The recommendation on hepatitis C testing is not technically current, she says, as it was issued in 2004. "Our goal is to update recommendations every five years, sooner if important new evidence becomes available," she tells WebMD.

"I think this one has been of lower priority for updating, perhaps because there has not been a lot of new evidence, nor has there been a widespread call for a change. From the point of view of the task force, this is the kind of evidence that might help us move forward with an update."

The model alone would not be enough to change the recommendation, says Moyer, who is also professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

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