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Merrimack Valley

December 1, 2012

New guidelines set for Hepatitis C testing

Q: My physician recently recommended that I be tested for Hepatitis C. I was somewhat offended because I thought this was something only drug users who shared needles got. I told him I would think about this and let him know at my next appointment. Is this something I should seriously consider?

A: Your physician was not insinuating he suspected you had participated in any risky behavior when you were younger. He was actually following new guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in May of this year. Previously the one time test was recommended primarily for those who had certain known risk factors. Current CDC suggestions are for all baby boomers, those born between 1945-1965 to be tested for the Hepatitis C virus.

It is widely believed that one in 30 baby boomers has been infected with the virus and most are totally unaware their future health could be in jeopardy. Over 2 million individuals in this age group could be experiencing liver damage without their knowledge or any indication their physicians should be starting treatment. Hepatitis C often has no symptoms and can go decades without being detected until serious health problems arise.

Those at higher risk are individuals who had blood transfusions before 1992, used intravenous drugs (even once), have tattoos, or have worked in a healthcare setting. It has also been noted African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more at risk than the general population. Hepatitis C leads to liver disease, liver cancer and is the major indicator for liver transplants.

Deaths for individuals with the virus have been on the rise for over a decade and are projected to increase in the years to come. At one time those being diagnosed faced an almost certain death but new therapies available have a cure rate of 75%. Typically treatment takes about 6 months with a combination of drugs and injections. If diagnosed early and appropriate intervention takes place it could potentially save 120,000 lives.

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