Baby boomers need complete testing for hepatitis C virus

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Three-quarters of the approximately 3-million Americans living with hepatitis C don't know they're infected.

CDC has released a digital press kit emphasizing the importance of complete testing for hepatitis C virus (HCV).

According to the agency, up to 75% of the approximately 3-million Americans living with HCV don't know they are infected. In addition, data from a study published on May 7 in CDC's Vital Signs indicated that only one-half of Americans identified as ever having HCV received follow-up testing to confirm whether they were still infected.

During a telebriefing on May 7, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said that most HCV-infected Americans are born between the years 1945 and 1965 (i.e., baby boomers). "The bottom line here is, if you were born between those years, get tested," stated Frieden. "And if you're positive, get follow-up testing."

"You may not remember everything that happened in the '60s and '70s, but your liver does," added Frieden.

Frieden stated that HCV is the most common reason for liver transplants and the leading cause of liver cancer, which is the fastest rising cause of cancer-related death in the United States. CDC estimates that about 120,000 deaths could be prevented if people with HCV get tested and receive the appropriate care.

HCV testing first involves an antibody test to determine whether an individual has ever been infected with the virus. Then, people with a positive antibody test should receive a follow-up RNA test to determine whether they are still infected, so that the appropriate treatment can begin.

CDC also noted that about 20% of people with positive antibody tests will clear the infection on their own; however, most individuals with HCV (~80%) remain infected and can develop major health problems if they do not get treated.

Data reported in the Vital Signs study were based on CDC-funded surveillance of HCV in eight areas across the nation. In the eight study areas, 67% of all reported cases of current infection were among baby boomers (i.e., those born from 1945 through 1965) and 72% of HCV-related deaths were reported for individuals born during that time frame.

CDC's HCV digital press kit includes open-access resources such as posters, fact sheets, multimedia, and quotes from experts on HCV.

Also of note, May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, during which CDC will be encouraging testing for HCV among priority populations. The agency also has designated May 19 as Hepatitis Testing Day.

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