In order to avert a major rise in liver disease and deaths among Americans, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are urging all baby boomers, that is members of the population born between 1945 and 1965, to get tested for the hepatitis C virus.

Hepatitis C causes serious liver diseases, including cancer, and is the main cause of liver transplants in the US. Liver cancer is also the fastest-growing cause of cancer deaths in the US.

The CDC estimate that one in 30 baby boomers is infected with the virus, and most don't realise it.

The recommendations are published in Thursday's issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden told the press this week:

"A one-time blood test for hepatitis C should be on every baby boomer's medical checklist."

Research suggests most of the infected baby boomers became infected decades ago, and today they don't see themselves as at risk, so don't come forward for screening.

If people were to follow the recommendation it would save thousands of lives and protect the health of an entire generation, said Frieden.

Hepatitis C-related illnesses such as cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and deaths have been rising steadily over the last ten years and are projected to go on rising.

More than 15,000 Americans, most of them baby boomers, die every year from diseases linked to hepatitis C.

The new recommendations come after public consultation on a draft released in May. There was overwhelming support for them and the CDC did not have to make many changes to the draft.

Under the old recommendations, the CDC only called for people with certain risk factors for hepatitis C to be tested.

Now the new ones say while it is important to continue with risk-based screening, it won't be enough.

There are currently around 2 million baby boomers in the US infected with hepatitis C, this is three quarters of all American adults who are infected.

Testing all baby boomers just once for hepatitis C would find more than 800,000 people who did not realize they were infected with the virus, say the CDC.

Nowadays, new treatments can cure up to 75% of cases, and linking expanded testing to the right care and treatment would save more than 120,000 lives and avoid the treatment and care costs of liver cancer and other diseases.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD