NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising all members of the 'Baby Boom' generation to get tested for Hepatitis C Virus using HCV antibody tests (anti-HCV) and urged physicians to perform a molecular test as a follow up for those who test positive for the virus.
An estimated one in 30 baby boomers — the generation born between 1945 and 1965 — has been infected with HCV unknowingly, leading to "an unrecognized health crisis" that affects around 3.2 million Americans, according to the CDC.
In recommendations posted late last week in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the agency advised that currently-used testing methods that were established in 2003 be used for HCV testing. This includes first-line testing with a US Food and Drug Administration-approved antibody test for HCV.
To distinguish which patients among those who test positive for HCV have active infections from those who have had a past infection that has now resolved, CDC recommended use of an FDA-approved hepatitis C nucleic acid test (NAT), also known as an HCV RNA test.
Under the new guidelines, individuals who test positive or who have indeterminate results using the anti-HCV test who are also positive using the HCV NAT test should be considered to have an active HCV infection and should be referred for further medical evaluation and care. Those who test positive on the anti-HVC test but negative using the HCV NAT should be considered to not have an active HCV infection.
More than 15,000 Americans, most of them of baby boomers, die every year from hepatitis C-related illnesses, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, and that number has been increasing over the past decade and is expected to "grow significantly in the coming years," CDC said.
"Identifying these hidden infections early will allow more baby boomers to receive care and treatment, before they develop life-threatening liver disease and could potentially save tens of thousands of lives," Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention, said in a statement.
CDC estimates that one-time testing of baby boomers for hepatitis C could identify more than 800,000 additional people with the virus, enabling them to be treated early, saving more than 120,000 lives and the costs of treating liver cancer and other chronic liver diseases.
"Because hepatitis C has few noticeable symptoms, many of those who are infected have no idea that the virus has been slowly damaging their livers. Testing is the only way to identify the millions of Americans who have the virus, and is the first step in stopping this epidemic in its tracks," added Bryce Smith, lead health scientist of CDC's Division of Viral Hepatitis.