Sept. 10, 2012 — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines in August urging all baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) to get tested for hepatitis C.
The CDC began drafting recommendations for testing after it reported the number of hepatitis C related deaths had doubled since the late 1990s, reaching 15,000 in 2007; a number that exceeds AIDS deaths.
Hepatitis C is a virus that can be transmitted through contact with contaminated blood. The CDC said that previous testing was only recommended for people who were considered high risk, such as intravenous drug users, but three-fourths of the deaths caused by the virus occurred in people aged 45 to 64.
A survey by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) found that nearly 75 percent of baby boomers have never been tested for hepatitis C, even though the age group represents 82 percent of those with the disease.
“Hepatitis C is not currently part of routine testing,” said Amber Gross, ARNP at King’s Daughters Medical Center’s Stone Street Primary Care in Morehead. “A positive antibody test may not mean you have an active infection and damage would depend on patient’s risk factors.”
The CDC said that baby boomers who have had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 (general blood supply was not tested until 1992), who have tattoos or body piercings, who worked in a health care setting, have HIV or have used intravenous drugs are at a greater risk.
The virus can cause liver scarring which can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer and is the leading cause of liver transplants according to the CDC. It can remain symptomless for decades.
“Gateway District Health Department does not provide testing for hepatitis C,” said Jahnna Lane, director of nursing for Gateway. “It is a reportable disease which means we work with hospitals, correctional facilities, clinics, physicians and labs to help control the virus within our population.”
“Health professionals are required to report hepatitis C findings within five days, Upon report, staff at Gateway work with the Department of Public Health in case management, reporting, educating and to ensure hepatitis C cases are treated,” said Lane.
“Gateway has definitely seen an increase in reported cases,” she continued. “Testing and treatment have dramatically improved as well as reporting and communication through a national database.”
“Our goals can change based on national, state and local policy. If the cases continue to increase, the CDC may increase funding for Gateway in the form of lab testing, clinic services and community education,” Lane added.
The CDC says that both short and long-term treatments are available with early detection.
“The virus is often a silent killer,” said the CDC in a release to CBS News. “It can stay in your body for decades with no symptoms at all.”
“Even if you are healthy and have taken precautions about your lifestyle, you may never know you have it until liver damage shows up decades later. Baby boomers who have not had the blood test should ask their health professional for the hepatitis C screening at their next appointment.”
For more information about hepatitis C ask your healthcare professional or visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov.
Kim Bandura can be reached at kbandura@ themoreheadnews.com or by telephone at 784-4116.