Baby Boomers and Hep C: What You Don't Do Can Kill Them

Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, MD


April 11, 2013

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Hello. I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer. Welcome to Medicine Matters. The topic is hepatitis C. Who needs testing? How does the policy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) differ from US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) draft recommendations? Here's why it matters.

Hepatitis C is a silent killer. It can survive in the body for decades before a person becomes aware of it. It's the leading cause of liver transplantations in this country and it can also cause liver cancer. There is no vaccine, but treatments have become more effective. The main challenge now is determining who has the disease. That's why the CDC now recommends hepatitis C testing for all baby boomers, not just those with risk factors that include history of injecting drugs, having a blood transfusion before 1992, or being on dialysis.[1]

Baby boomers are the generation born between 1945 and 1965 -- more than 76 million people who are now in the age group at risk. Data show that 1 in 30 of them are already infected with hepatitis C, and 50%-75% of them don't even know they have it. This CDC recommendation was published in August 2012 in the MMWR.[1]

The USPSTF draft recommendations released in November 2012 are not as inclusive.[2] Their class B recommendation was for screening only people at high risk, regardless of when they were born. They stopped short of recommending universal screening of all baby boomers regardless of risk factors. The task force did consider screening of all boomers a class C recommendation. This is a draft recommendation statement. Comments were accepted through December 24, 2012. Look for release of the final task force recommendation.

More than 15,000 Americans, most of them baby boomers, die of hepatitis C-related illness each year. For Medicine Matters, I'm Sandra Fryhofer.