Baby Boomers have one more item to add to their to-do list, and it’s an important one: get screened for the hepatitis C virus (HCV). More than 3 million Americans are infected with HCV, but the vast majority of them don’t know it.
In my blog last May, Call for Wider Hepatitis Screenings, I first pointed out the need for all Baby Boomers to get a HCV screening. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I continued this call for a change in screening policy in several more blogs (Doing Nothing is Not an Option blog and The Road to Wellness Begins in Just 20 Minutes blog).
It looks like my message is finally getting out. If you watched the NBC Nightly News a few days ago, you might have heard Brian Williams sharing the story of a Baby Boomer diagnosed with hepatitis C and her journey of getting treatment. The story wrapped up with the same message I have repeated so many times now: everyone age 40 and older should be screened for the hepatitis C virus.
Changing to an age-based HCV screening test from one based solely on risk factors is a paradigm shift. In the past, hepatitis C testing was reserved for individuals with conventional high risk factors (such as IV drug use, blood transfusion before 1992, or unprotected sex with a known HCV-infected person). I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: just testing these high-risk people isn’t good enough. It leaves out a huge portion of people with HCV who do not fit this risk factor profile, in fact many people infected with the HCV never determine when or how they were infected.
Screening for the HCV on an age basis, instead of the outdated “risk factor” model will greatly increase diagnosis rates of HCV – this in turn allows patients to be treated before more serious complications (such as cirrhosis or liver failure) set in. In fact, if all the Baby Boomers born from 1946-1964 were screened for the HCV there would be an estimated 48,000 fewer HCV-related deaths. The cost-effectiveness from widespread HCV screenings is on par with the savings that result from cervical cancer and cholesterol screenings.
HCV screening can be quick and easy; there are even tests available that give results in just 20 minutes. Along with the improvements in testing, treatment options for HCV infection are better than ever. In the past, standard treatment for hepatitis C infection was effective in only 15 percent of cases. The new medications available today provide a meaningful cure in more than 70 percent of patients.
Stephen C Vogt, PharmD
President and CEO