Hepatitis C Basics

Baby Boomers: ‘F’ for Hep C Testing

Despite recommendations, baby boomers still aren’t getting tested for hepatitis C, according to a new study.
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advised Americans born between 1945 and 1965 to get tested for hepatitis C virus.
“Prevalence of [hepatitis C virus] testing among baby boomers did not substantially increase and remains low two years after the USPSTF recommendation in 2013,” said Ahmedin Jemal of the American Cancer Society’s surveillance and health services research program.
An estimated 3.5 million Americans have the virus—80 percent of whom are baby boomers—yet most don’t know they are infected with the contagious liver disease, the researchers said. African Americans have a significantly higher rate of chronic hepatitis C infection than other ethnic groups, as well as higher death rates from hep C-related illnesses.
To reduce the risk of related diseases, including chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer, treatment is necessary.
For this study, researchers analyzed data from about 24,000 baby boomers who took part in a government health survey. They found hepatitis C testing rates increased from 12.3 percent in 2013 to 13.8 percent in 2015.
There were roughly 76 million American baby boomers in 2015, yet only 10.5 million said they had been tested for hepatitis C.
One reason for the slow uptick in testing: insurance. Patients with Medicare plus Medicaid, Medicaid only or military insurance had higher rates of hepatitis C testing than those with private insurance. Rates were also higher in men than women, and among college graduates.
“These findings underscore the need for increased awareness for testing among health-care providers and baby boomers, and other innovative strategies, such as state-mandated testing,” the researchers said in a news release.
Hepatitis C is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Before widespread screening of the U.S. blood supply started in 1992, blood transfusions were a common source of infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now the virus is more likely to be transmitted from sharing injection needles, being born to an infected mother or, in rare cases, through sexual contact.

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