CDC wants all baby boomers to be tested for hepatitis C

Published: Friday, May 18 2012 12:45 p.m. MDT

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SALT LAKE CITY — As many as one in 30 baby boomers has hepatitis C and doesn't know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which Friday called for a one-time testing of all of boomers. The viral infection is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States and can cause liver cancer, the fastest-rising cause of cancer-related deaths.

In a widely disseminated release, the CDC said it "believes this approach will address the largely preventable consequences of the disease, especially in light of newly available therapies that can cure up to 75 percent of infections."

"The field has attracted broad interest with two new hepatitis C drugs — Incivek from Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Merck & Co.'s Victrelis — reaching the U.S. market in the past year. Companies including Gilead Sciences Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. aim to improve on those medicines with pills that do not need to be combined with injections of immune system boosters, which have side effects that can deter patients," according to a story by Reuters.

The CDC said that more than 2 million boomers are infected, accounting for more than 75 percent of all American adults who have the virus. The boomer age demographic — those born between 1945 and 1965 — is five times more likely to be infected than other adults. It said that 15,000 Americans die each year from hepatitis C-related illness "and deaths have been increasing steadily for over a decade and are projected to grow significantly in coming years."

Current guidelines recommend only testing those with certain known risk factors, but studies show that many baby boomers do not perceive themselves to be at risk and are not being tested.

CDC officials told Associated Press they believe the new measure could lead 800,000 more baby boomers to get treatment and could save more than 120,000 lives.

The government's fact page says the disease "can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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