All baby boomers should get a one-time blood test to learn if they have the liverdestroying hepatitis C virus, U.S. health officials said.
It can take decades for the blood-borne virus to cause liver damage and symptoms to emerge, so many people don’t know they’re harboring it. Baby boomers account for about two-thirds of the estimated 3.2 million infected Americans.
Hepatitis C virus is most commonly spread today through sharing needles to inject drugs. Before widespread screening of blood donations began in 1992, it was also spread through blood transfusions.
The virus can gradually scar the liver and lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer, and is the leading cause of liver transplant. It can trigger damage in other parts of the body, as well.
It’s possible some people were infected in ways other than dirty needles or long-ago blood transfusions. Some experts say tattoos, piercings, shared razor blades and toothbrushes, manicures and sniffed cocaine may have caused the virus to spread in some cases.
However it happened, health officials say baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected than other adults.
Officials said they decided to issue the recommendations after seeing the number of Americans dying from hepatitis C-related diseases nearly double from 1999 to 2007.
Another reason: Two drugs hit the market last year that promise to cure many more people than was previously possible.
Previously, testing was recommended only for people considered at highest risk, like current and former injection drug users.
About 3 percent of baby boomers test positive for the virus, the CDC estimates. Of those, some manage to clear the infection from their bodies without treatment, but still have lingering antibodies that give a positive initial test result. That’s why confirmatory tests are needed.
Online: CDC: www.cdc. gov/hepatitis/C/index.htm — The Associated Press