On the eve of the first ever National Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19),
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing draft
guidelines proposing that all U.S. baby boomers get a one-time test for
the hepatitis C virus. One in 30 baby boomers – the generation born
from 1945 through 1965 – has been infected with hepatitis C, and most
don’t know it. Hepatitis C causes serious liver diseases including
liver cancer, which is the fastest-rising cause of cancer-related
deaths, and the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.
CDC believes this approach will address the largely preventable
consequences of this disease, especially in light of newly available
therapies that can cure up to 75 percent of infections.
“With increasingly effective treatments now available, we can prevent
tens of thousands of deaths from hepatitis C,” said CDC Director Thomas
R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
More than 2 million U.S. baby boomers are infected with hepatitis C,
accounting for more than 75 percent of all American adults living with
the virus. Baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected than
other adults. Yet most infected baby boomers do not know they have the
virus because hepatitis C can damage the liver for many years with few
noticeable symptoms. More than 15,000 Americans, most of them baby
boomers, die each year from hepatitis C-related illness, such as
cirrhosis and liver cancer, and deaths have been increasing steadily for
over a decade and are projected to grow significantly in coming years.
“Identifying these hidden infections early will allow more baby boomers
to receive care and treatment, before they develop life-threatening
liver disease,” said Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC’s National
Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention.
Current CDC guidelines call for testing only individuals with certain
known risk factors for hepatitis C infection. But studies find that many
baby boomers do not perceive themselves to be at risk and are not being
CDC estimates one-time hepatitis C testing of baby boomers could
identify more than 800,000 additional people with hepatitis C, prevent
the costly consequences of liver cancer and other chronic liver diseases
and save more than 120,000 lives.
CDC’s draft recommendations will be available for a public comment period from May 22 – June 8, 2012.
Other important announcements tied to the first National Hepatitis Testing Day include:
- The release of a $6.5 million funding opportunity announcement to
expand testing of hepatitis B and hepatitis C, increase earlier
diagnosis of individuals with infections, and enhance linkage to care,
treatment and preventive services for people living with these
Funded efforts will focus on groups that are disproportionately affected
by the disease, including Asian-American Pacific Islander communities
who have the highest rates of hepatitis B, and injection drug users and
individuals born from 1945 – 1965 who are most affected by hepatitis C.
These efforts align with the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services’ Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral
Hepatitis, which was released in May 2011.
- Adding additional tools and resources to the CDC Know More Hepatitis
website, including a new online Hepatitis Risk Assessment tool. This
tool is designed to help people determine their risk for viral
- Collaborating with HHS to produce PSAs featuring HHS’ assistant
secretary for health, Howard Koh, M.D., and Surgeon General Regina
Benjamin, M.D., with specific outreach to high-risk communities on the
importance of testing.
For additional information about hepatitis, visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.