Update: The CDC Friday morning proposed that all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 be screened for hepatitis C and is drafting guidelines for implementing that proposal.
Hepatitis C is one of those infections I hear about but never really pay much attention to; naively or not, it never has struck me as something I need to worry about, at least on a personal level.
Apparently I am not alone. A survey conducted by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) released this week shows that 74 percent of people born between 1945 and 1965 either have not been tested or don’t remember whether they’ve been tested for hepatitis C, which is spread via contact with infected blood.
But the CDC counts about 3.2 million people in the U.S. as having hepatitis C, which can linger without causing noticeable symptoms for years but can cause serious liver damage, failure, or cancer. In fact, according to that agency, it’s the leading cause of those conditions — and the need for liver transplant — in the United States.
People who have ever used intravenous drugs, had blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992 (when stricter screening practices took hold), had tattoos or body piercings, work in health-care settings or have HIV are at increased risk of having hepatitis C. Baby boomers — “the majority of whom were likely infected during the 1970s and 1980s when rates were highest,” according to the CDC, are considered at increased risk.
According to the CDC, more than 15,000 deaths each year in the United States are attributable to hepatitis C.
While there’s not yet a vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, it can be detected through a simple blood test and, in many cases, it can be cured. With that in mind, the AGA encourages people to get themselves tested and offers hepatitis C information through a campaign called I.D. Hep C.
The AGA’s campaign is funded by a pharmaceutical company called Vertex, whose new hepatitis C drug, Incivek, was approved by the FDA last May.
The CDC devotes a substantial chunk of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) to hepatitis, with papers about tracking infection among patients exposed to hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus in health-care settings, outbreaks of hepatitis B among residents of assisted living facilities in Virginia that are linked to their assisted blood glucose monitoring, and hepatitis C infection that’s associated with drug use among adolescents and young adults. “The findings in all three reports underscore the importance of viral hepatitis surveillance in detecting outbreaks and changes in transmission patterns,” the MMWR report notes.
Why all this hepatitis news? This month marks the 17th federally designated (by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) Hepatitis Awareness Month, and this Saturday, the 19th, is the first-ever National Hepatitis Testing Day, also set by that agency.
So, will you get yourself tested?