Liver Health

10 March 2017

More baby boomers need to get tested for hep C

Hepatitis C virus testing among baby boomers did not substantially increase after they were advised to get tested.

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Despite recommendations, too few American baby boomers are tested for hepatitis C, a new study reveals.

Baby boomers are people who were born between 1946 and 1964.

The report was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Most don't know they're infected

In 2013, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advised all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 to get a one-time test 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," Ahmedin Jemal of the American Cancer Society's surveillance and health services research programme, and colleagues reported.

Of the estimated 3.5 million Americans who have the virus, 80% are baby boomers. And most don't know they are infected with the contagious liver disease, the researchers explained.

According to a Health24 article, the hpatitis C virus belongs to the Flaviviridae family, which includes viruses that mainly spread through arthropod vectors such as ticks and mosquitoes. Dengue fever, an infectious disease transmitted to humans by mosquitoes, and Japanese encephalitis, an infection that affects the nervous system which is also transmitted by mosquitoes, are some of the diseases caused by the Flaviviridae family of organisms.

Diseases related to Hepatitis C

Treatment is needed to reduce the risk of related diseases, such as chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer, the study authors added.

For this study, the investigators analysed data from nearly 24 000 baby boomers who took part in a government health survey.

The researchers found that hepatitis C testing rates increased from 12.3% in 2013 to 13.8% in 2015.

There were approximately 76 million baby boomers in the United States in 2015, and only 10.5 million said they had been tested for hepatitis C.

Based on Statistics SA figures, there are roughly 7 million baby boomers in South Africa. 

Insurance played a role in testing, the findings showed. Patients with Medicare plus Medicaid, Medicaid only, or military insurance had higher rates of hepatitis C virus testing than those with private insurance. Rates were also higher in men than women, and among college graduates.

Raise awareness for 'Hep C testing'

"These findings underscore the need for increased awareness for [hepatitis C virus] testing among health care providers and baby boomers, and other innovative strategies such as state-mandated [hepatitis C] testing," the researchers said in an American Cancer Society news release.

Hepatitis C is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person.

Before widespread screening of the US blood supply began in 1992, blood transfusions were a common source of hepatitis C infection, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, infection likely occurs from sharing injection needles, being born to an infected mother or, in some cases, through sexual contact.

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