In August 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a recommendation that the “baby boomer” generation, individuals born between 1945 and 1965, be tested for hepatitis C, one of the leading causes of cirrhosis of the liver.
Why? Researchers believe that more than 2 million Americans in this age group are infected with hepatitis C, and most of them are unaware of it. In fact, conditions associated with hepatitis C, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, kill more than 15,000 people each year in the United States. According to the CDC, more than three-quarters of all U.S. adults who have hepatitis C are baby boomers.
The CDC noted that many in this age group who are unaware of their hepatitis C infection could have become infected several decades ago. Up until August, the CDC had recommended screening for individuals with known risk factors for hepatitis C infection. Now, the government agency has expanded its screening recommendations to include all baby boomers.
It is estimated that, if everyone born between 1945 and 1965 were tested, 800,000 more hepatitis C carriers could be identified. Given that newer treatments can cure up three-quarters of hepatitis C infections, according to the CDC, identifying and treating people in this age group who are infected—before the infection has a chance to progress to liver cancer or some other chronic liver disease—could prevent the deaths of more than 120,000 Americans.
In addition to saving lives, following the agency’s recommendations for testing could also potentially save millions in health-related costs.
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC, commented, “The new recommendations can protect the health of an entire generation of Americans and save thousands of lives.”
“A one-time blood test for hepatitis C should be on every baby boomer’s checklist,” Frieden advised.
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