Should You Be Screened for Hepatitis C? How to Catch This Silent Killer Before It Is Too Late
November 8, 2012
By Community Outreach Department, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
A major health issue facing our country today is a silent and deadly liver disease called hepatitis C. Over 5 million Americans have hepatitis C– approximately four times the amount of people with HIV. It is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. What’s more surprising is that 75 percent of people with hepatitis C don’t know they have it.
Hepatitis C is sometimes called a “silent killer” because it often has no symptoms and can go decades without being detected. In the meantime, serious liver damage or even liver cancer may occur.
Recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise. In 2007, there were over 15,000 deaths in the United States from hepatitis C, surpassing the 13,000 deaths from HIV/AIDS in the same year.
People born from 1945 through 1965 have a greater prevalence of hepatitis C than the general population. In fact, 82 percent of people with the disease in the US are baby boomers, and 73 percent of the deaths from hepatitis C occur in this group.6
Those at increased risk for hepatitis C include people who had blood transfusions before 1992, people with tattoos, people who used intravenous drugs – even once – and those who work in a healthcare setting.3 Certain populations, including African Americans and Hispanics, are also affected by hepatitis C at a significantly higher rate than the general population.
But there is good news. For many patients, hepatitis C can be cured, unlike other chronic diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS.
Screening for hepatitis C is not currently part of routine testing; you may think you have been tested, but chances are you haven’t. The CDC recently released draft guidelines recommending that all baby boomers have a simple, one-time antibody test to screen for hepatitis C. According to a CDC-sponsored study, such age-based screening could identify more than 800,000 additional cases of chronic hepatitis C infection and, when followed by treatment, could reduce the number of deaths by an additional 121,000 over risk-based screening.
In the meantime, if you are a baby boomer or have any risk factors, make sure to ask your doctor for a simple test to screen for hepatitis C at your next appointment.
For more information on hepatitis C, visit www.BetterToKnowC.com.