In Your Area
American Liver Foundation
PO Box 22108
Seattle, WA 98122
American Liver Foundation
39 Broadway, Suite 2700
New York, NY 10006
National Helpline 800-GO-LIVER
Author: Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated
This educational article was contributed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which develops treatments for hepatitis C and other life-threatening diseases.
Should You Be Screened for Hepatitis C? Know Your Status Before It Is Too Late.
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 (1) – approximately four times the amount of people with HIV (2). It is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States (3). What’s more surprising is that 75 percent of people with hepatitis C don’t know they have it (2).
Hepatitis C is sometimes called a “silent killer” because it often has no symptoms and can go decades without being detected (4). In the meantime, serious liver damage or even liver cancer may occur (3).
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 (5).
Baby boomers (born during 1945-1965) have a greater prevalence of hepatitis C than the general population and represent over 76 percent of all cases of hepatitis C in the United States (6). Moreover, 73 percent of the deaths from hepatitis C occur in this group (5).
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 (7,8).
But there is good news. For many patients, hepatitis C can be cured (9), 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 updated their guidelines recommending that all baby boomers have a simple, one-time antibody test to screen for hepatitis C (6). This new recommendation is to complement the previous screening guidelines based on risk factors, and individuals of all ages with risk factors should still be screened for hepatitis C. According to a CDC-sponsored study, it is estimated thatage-based screening of baby boomers 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 (10).
If you are a baby boomer or have any risk factors, make sure to ask your doctor for a simple antibody test to screen for hepatitis C at your next appointment.
(1) Chak, E, et. al. Hepatitis C Virus Infection In USA: An Estimate of True Prevalence. Liver Int. 2011;1096-1098.
(2) Colvin HM, Mitchell AE, eds. Hepatitis and liver cancer: a national strategy for prevention and control of hepatitis B and C. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Available at: http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2010/Hepatitis-and-Liver-Cancer-A-National-Strategy-for-Prevention-and-Control-of-Hepatitis-B-and-C.aspx. Accessed October 3, 2012.
(3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/C/cFAQ.htm. Accessed October 3, 2012.
(4) United States Department of Health & Human Services. Combating the Silent Epidemic of Viral Hepatitis: Action Plan for the Prevention, Care & Treatment of Viral Hepatitis.http://www.hhs.gov/ash/initiatives/hepatitis/actionplan_viralhepatitis2011.pdf. Accessed October 3, 2012.
(5) Ly KN, et al. The Increasing Burden of Mortality From Viral Hepatitis in the United States between 1999 and 2007. Ann Intern Med. 2012;156:271-278.
(6) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommendations for the Identification of Chronic Hepatitis C Infection among Persons Born between 1945-1965. MMWR 2012;61(No. RR-4):1-18.
(7) Hepatitis C and Latinos. Hepatitis C Support Coalition. 2006. Available at: http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/Latinos.pdf. Accessed October 3, 2012.
(8) Pearlman BL. Hepatitis C in African Americans. Clin Infect Dis. 2006;42:82-91.
(9) Pearlman BL and Traub N. Sustained Virologic Response to Antiviral Therapy for Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection: A Cure and So Much More. Clin Infect Dis. 2011 Apr;52(7):889-900.
(10) Rein DB, et. al. The Cost-Effectiveness of Birth-Cohort Screening for Hepatitis C Antibody in U.S. Primary Care Settings. Ann Intern Med. 2012;156:263-270.