Baby Boomers Urged to Get Tested for Hepatitis C Virus

Saint Luke's Liver Disease Management Center says testing is key to saving lives, 'silent infection' rampant among baby boomers

May 21, 2013, 11:45 ET from Saint Luke's Health System

KANSAS CITY, Mo., May 21, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- If you're a baby boomer, you may not know that odds are high that you're carrying the hepatitis C virus, putting yourself at risk for illness that can range from minor to life threatening.

Hepatitis C is a contagious disease affecting primarily the liver, caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The disease can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks, to a serious, lifelong condition that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person.

Liver specialists at Saint Luke's Liver Disease Management Center join experts at the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable in urging people born from 1945 to 1965 to get screened. "Most people with chronic HCV have no symptoms and are completely unaware they carry this 'silent' virus," said Frederic Regenstein, M.D., medical director, Saint Luke's Liver Disease Management Center.  "It is vital that boomers and other populations at increased risk for hepatitis C get tested, and that they receive appropriate testing, including a follow up test when needed.

"Without appropriate testing, those with hepatitis C are less likely to learn about their infection and get the critical care and treatment that they need in order to prevent cancer, and other serious health consequences. May is National Hepatitis Awareness Month, and a perfect time to look into screening," Dr. Regenstein added.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) underscores the severe impact of hepatitis C among baby boomers (individuals born from 1945 through 1965). Baby boomers accounted for 67 percent of all reported hepatitis C cases and 72 percent of all reported deaths among persons with hepatitis C. The CDC recommends that all baby boomers get tested for hepatitis C.

The recent CDC data comes from enhanced hepatitis C surveillance in eight areas across the country. The findings indicate that half of those identified as having a positive hepatitis C antibody blood test reported to the health department also had the appropriate follow-up testing to determine if they are still infected. The other half did not have a follow-up test reported. Without the hepatitis C follow-up test, individuals do not know if they still have hepatitis C and cannot get the care and treatment they need. In this study, deaths were higher among those who did not have a follow-up test reported to the health department.

Left untreated, hepatitis C can cause serious liver damage, including liver cancer – the fastest-rising cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. In fact, deaths from hepatitis C-related illness, such as liver failure and liver cancer, have nearly doubled over the past decade, now accounting for more than 15,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. The CDC estimates that testing baby boomers for hepatitis C could identify more than 800,000 additional people with hepatitis C and save more than 120,000 lives.

According to the updated guidance, individuals tested for hepatitis C should receive a screening blood test, called an antibody test, in order to determine if the person has ever been infected with the hepatitis C virus. For those with a positive hepatitis C antibody test, a follow-up test is needed to determine if a person is still infected. In order to help ensure that patients are properly diagnosed, it is critical that providers conduct follow-up testing to ensure they receive life-saving care and treatment.

About Saint Luke's Liver Disease Management Center
At Saint Luke's Liver Disease Management Center, patients throughout the Midwest and across the United States have access to liver disease treatment options provided by a multidisciplinary physician group. From preventive care to liver transplantation, Saint Luke's provides a full range of services for patients with disorders of the liver, bile ducts, and pancreas.

Screenings are available; check local health departments for information.

SOURCE Saint Luke's Health System