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Test All Baby Boomers for Hepatitis C: Experts

This generation has highest rate of infection, likely contracted decades ago

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- All adults born between 1945 and 1965 -- the baby boom generation -- should be screened for the hepatitis C virus along with injection-drug users and anyone transfused before 1992, according to new recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

The guidelines, released Monday, mirror recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and provide a long-awaited policy from the task force, an independent panel of experts.

"For everyone born between 1945 and 1965 we recommend a one-time screening," said task force member Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an associate professor in residence at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine.

People in this age group account for three-quarters of all hepatitis C cases in the United States, Bibbins-Domingo said. Many contracted the disease decades ago but don't know it.

Hepatitis C -- a leading cause of liver damage and liver disease in the United States -- is considered a silent killer because it progresses without any indications of illness. More than 30 percent of U.S. patients needing liver transplants have end-stage liver disease related to hepatitis C.

"The challenge is that many people have hepatitis C and don't have signs and symptoms of the disease," Bibbins-Domingo said. "Those people should be identified and consider treatment."

An estimated 3.9 million people are infected with hepatitis C in the United States, the task force said. Unlike other types of hepatitis, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

In its 2004 statement, the task force advised against routine screening of adults without symptoms and high risk of infection. It also said it had too little evidence to recommend for or against routine screening for adults with high risk of infection.

It became apparent, however, that two-thirds of infected people weren't getting screened, while treatment was becoming more successful.

"Many people appear to benefit from treatment," Bibbins-Domingo said. "That is what led the task force to conclude that it is beneficial for people to find out they have hepatitis C in order to seek treatment."

Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said he welcomes the new guidelines, which were published June 25 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"I am absolutely thrilled that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which has had a head-in-the-sand approach toward screening, has come out for a one-time screening for hepatitis C," Siegel said.

Siegel encourages everyone at risk to get tested.

Screening for hepatitis C involves a simple, inexpensive blood test. Those who test positive usually receive a course of antiviral medication over several months. Most people have no detectable virus following treatment, Bibbins-Domingo said.

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