The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has just issued new screening recommendations for adults, specifically baby boomers, at risk of hepatitis C virus infection.

The new recommendations come following substantial evidence indicating that more widespread screening could significantly help identify people living with the infection.

Task Force member, Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, Ph.D., M.D., said that there are millions of Americans infected with hepatitis C, but “many are unaware of their condition, in large part because they may not have any symptoms.”

Hepatitis C is a serious virus infection, affecting over 3 million Americans. It is one of the main causes of liver damage and liver cancer and around 15,000 people die from it each year. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo believes that “screening for hepatitis C can help people who are infected live longer, healthier lives.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report explaining that the damage from hepatitis C can be prevented with early treatment. However, the report also revealed that more than half of Americans don’t receive proper testing for hepatitis C and can’t be treated.

The new statement strongly recommends Hepatitis C screening for people who have used injectable drugs or received a blood transfusion before 1992.

The group also said that a one-time hepatitis C screening should be carried out among “baby boomers” (people born between 1945 and 1965).

According to the CDC, more people die every year because of hepatitis C than HIV and most of these deaths are among baby boomers.

“Baby boomers” account for an overwhelming 75 percent of all people with hepatitis C in the country. It’s for this reason that the Task Force strongly recommends people born between 1945 and 1965, even those without other risk factors, should receive a one time screening.

Task Force co-chair Albert Siu, M.D., M.S.P.H, said:

“Many people in this age group contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion or unknown or unreported high-risk behaviors.

Even though they may have no symptoms yet, the evidence is convincing that one-time screening will help find millions of Americans with the infection before they develop a serious liver disease.”

Over the last ten years hepatitis C treatment has improved enormously; the side effects and harms associated with treatment and diagnoses aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be before.

People who are screened should receive a comprehensive explanation of what hepatitis C infection is before testing begins. In addition, the patients should be encouraged to ask any questions that they may have regarding the test.

The Task Force emphasizes that screening should only be voluntary.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist