by Brendon Nafziger
, DOTmed News Associate Editor
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday baby boomers should get a one-time test for hepatitis C, as an estimated 1.5 million of them might be carriers of the virus and not even know it.
Under the new guidelines, the CDC recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 should get tested for the blood-borne liver disease.
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Previously, the CDC only recommended testing for people at risk for hep C, such as intravenous drug users, HIV patients, health care workers with needlestick injuries, and people who received blood transfusions before routine testing for the virus began in July 1992.
But the agency said a majority of U.S. adults with hep C are baby boomers, many of whom could have been infected decades ago when they were children or teens - possibly through long-forgotten drug use or a transfusion.
"Because hepatitis C has few noticeable symptoms, many of those who are infected have no idea that the virus has been slowly damaging their livers," Bryce Smith, the lead health scientist for CDC's viral hepatitis division, said in a statement.
About 3.2 million Americans have hep C, and about 75 percent of adults affected by it are baby boomers, the CDC said. Every year, the agency said nearly 15,000 people die of the disease, which over time can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer.
New therapies for the disease can cure about 75 percent of patients, the CDC said.
The agency estimates that the expanded recommendations for a one-time test could lead to doctors identifying 800,000 new hep C cases. The resulting treatments could save an estimated 120,000 lives.