The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) welcomes final recommendations issued this week by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force regarding screening for hepatitis C virus (HCV). The task force’s recommendation that all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 be screened once for hepatitis C, a potentially fatal virus, has the potential to identify an estimated 800,000 baby boomers who do not realize they are infected and link them to care, saving more than 120,000 lives.
This important recommendation will not only influence medical practice, but will also help expand access to screening services, as private and public insurers look to the task force’s recommendations in making coverage decisions.
Baby boomers are five times more likely than other adults to be infected with hepatitis C, but many are unaware because they can have no symptoms and can live for years without getting sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75 percent of hepatitis C-infected individuals were born between 1945 and 1965.
Hepatitis C infections are serious and can be life-threatening. About 15,000 people a year die from the disease, and as many as 85 percent of the 3 million Americans with hepatitis C do not realize they have the infection. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent liver damage, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Birth-cohort screening has been deemed to be cost-effective and is a critical first-step to avoiding death and HCV morbidity.
The task force’s recommendations are now consistent with CDC guidance released in 2012 that all baby boomers undergo a one-time hepatitis C screening. By strengthening its earlier draft recommendation, the task force has embraced a public health opportunity to diagnose, treat, and save the lives of thousands of baby boomers with hepatitis C. As an organization of nearly 10,000 physicians, scientists and other health professionals devoted to patient care, prevention and public health, IDSA commends the task force for taking this important step.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) is an organization of physicians, scientists, and other health care professionals dedicated to promoting health through excellence in infectious diseases research, education, prevention, and patient care. The Society, which has nearly 10,000 members, was founded in 1963 and is based in Arlington, VA. For more information, see www.idsociety.org.