The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now wants baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) to get tested for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a liver infection. The virus is transmitted from one person to another through blood. Symptoms of the condition can include pain in the upper right abdomen, fatigue, fever, itching, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), and dark urine. However, many people don’t get any symptoms just after they’re infected with hepatitis C. Sometimes, even people with chronic hepatitis C infections don’t show symptoms. Eventually, though, scarring of the liver takes place—a condition called cirrhosis. Once cirrhosis has set in, a person is quite ill and other health problems begin to manifest themselves. That’s why testing for hepatitis C is so important.
Preventing the spread of hepatitis C is a challenge because of the fact that many people don’t even know they have the condition. Although the infection can be identified by a blood test, if you don’t know you have the condition, you’re not likely to ever get the blood test.
That’s why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force decided to step in. They’re recommending testing for hepatitis C for all baby boomers. By screening all baby boomers, they hope to stop the spread of the infection. They also hope to treat people before the condition becomes serious and turns into cirrhosis or cancer. But why now, some people are asking? Why didn’t the task force introduce these recommendations years ago?
It could be that screening methods are much more advanced and accurate now. There’s also a greater variety of successful treatments available for those who have hepatitis C.
If the task force recommendations are passed, the costs of hepatitis C tests will likely be covered for millions of Americans. New federal health care laws state that private insurers have to foot the bill for many of the Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendations.
The hepatitis C test would involve a one-time blood test. If a patient were to test positive for the condition, additional follow-up tests would be needed. Baby boomers are being targeted for the test in an effort to find those who have gone undetected. It’s likely these people picked up the infection during past drug use (a common method of transmission), through a blood transfusion that they don’t remember, or from having sexual contact with another person that was infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already recommended that baby boomers get screened. They did so based on data that approximately 15,000 people a year die of hepatitis C.
Treatment for the condition usually involves taking a course of drugs aimed at killing off the hepatitis C virus. Medication is also prescribed to reduce the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
For those diagnosed with hepatitis C, it’s important to avoid drinking alcohol to protect the liver from further damage. Taking a course of vitamins and supplements can help heal liver damage and strengthen the body. You may also need to check with your healthcare provider whether or not you need to get the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines. Unfortunately, there is still no vaccine available for hepatitis C.
The symptoms of hepatitis C or cirrhosis can often go undetected, so heed these recommendations and make sure testing for hepatitis C is on yours and your doctor’s priority list.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Walker, J., “Baby Boomers Should Be Tested For Hepatitis C, Task Force Says,” The Wall Street Journal web site, June 24, 2013; www.wsj.com, last accessed July 2, 2013.
Ghany, M.G., et al., “American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Diagnosis, management, and treatment of hepatitis C: an update,” Hepatology 2009;49:1335-1374.
Jou, J.H., et al., “In the clinic. Hepatitis C,” Ann Intern Med 2008; 148: ITC6-1-ITC6-16.