The Guardian Express (05.08.2013)
CDC and health departments across the nation are partnering to provide free hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing and education during May, which is Hepatitis Awareness Month. The primary testing target is baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965. Although this group represents only 27 percent of the US population, they comprise 75 percent of HCV cases and 73 percent of HCV-associated deaths, according to CDC. HCV is a highly contagious, blood-borne virus that may have no symptoms for many years, but can profoundly damage the liver.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reported that 4 million US residents have HCV; 180 million people worldwide have HCV. Approximately 80 percent of HCV-infected people develop “serious health problems” and higher risk of liver cancer. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden estimated that only 51 percent of HCV-infected Americans have had follow-up antibody testing to find out if they still have the virus.
Baby boomers’ HCV risk is higher for multiple reasons, according to MedSpring Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jon L. Belsher, MD. Injection drug use was prevalent from 1969 to 1980. Prior to 1992, many people sold blood for money, but blood banks did not screen the donated blood for HCV. Medical practices during the Vietnam War also contributed to high rates among baby boomers. Staff repeatedly used HCV-contaminated needles for inoculating soldiers, and blood for surgeries in Vietnam came from US prisons, which did not screen donors for the virus. HCV was prevalent among prisoners due to jailhouse tattoos.
May 19 is National Hepatitis Testing Day. All of MedSpring’s 14 centers in Houston, Austin, and Chicago are giving free HCV antibody testing. At-risk individuals can obtain referrals for free screening and testing from their closest medical facility.