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Health Briefs

CDC proposes expanded guidelines for hepatitis C testing

Heart Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is proposing that all persons in the United States born from 1945 through 1965 get a one-time test for hepatitis C.  

In a CDC news release, the agency says one out of every 30 people in this age group has been infected with the hepatitis C virus. However, most of them may not be aware  they have been infected because they remain symptom-free for years or have only non-specific symptoms such as fever, nausea, or muscle aches. In the later stages of the disease, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes) may be present.   

The CDC is stepping up its fight against the virus, which can lead to serious liver diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer and even a need for a liver transplant. Through testing, the CDC hopes to address what it describes as the "largely preventable" consequences of hepatitis C.  According to the release, newly developed therapies can cure up to 75 percent of hepatitis C infections.

Currently, the CDC guidelines suggest testing only for certain groups who are at an increased risk. This includes, but is not limited to, health care workers exposed to infected blood through a needle stick, people infected with HIV and those who have injected illicit drugs or are on long-term hemodialysis.

For baby boomers wondering if hepatitis C testing is covered by Medicare, the answer is no. Don McLeod, a public affairs specialist with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), says that at this time the test is only covered for beneficiaries who exhibit "signs or symptoms consistent with hepatitis C disease."

More information about hepatitis and an online risk assessment is available at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.