Hepatitis C and Baby Boomers

Infection Control

You’re watching television and a commercial comes on with haunting piano music and attractive middle-age people looking at nature or enjoying outdoor activities in slow motion. No, it’s not an ad for an exotic vacation spot. It’s a PSA urging baby baby boomers to get tested for Hepatitis C. Technically it’s not a public service announcement because it’s paid for by a pharmaceutical corporation that develops and sells medication. However, that doesn’t mean the information in the ad is wrong (it isn’t) or that the advice isn’t good (it is).

The CDC recommends that all baby boomers (people aged 52 to 72) get tested. This group is five times more likely to have Hep C than other groups. Many boomers became infected in the 70’s and 80’s when infection control standards were not what they are today.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) first recommended one-time HCV testing for baby boomers in 2013. Recently the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported on testing rates at the two-year mark of the recommendation. Unfortunately, testing rates are still very low. Of the 76.2 million estimated baby boomers in 2015, only 10.5 million reported ever receiving HCV testing. Individuals with government based insurance (Medicare, Medicaid, or military insurance) had slightly higher rates of HCV testing than the privately insured. Testing was also greater in men than women.

If left untreated, the Hep C virus can cause cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. The virus can live in the body for years with no symptoms, so patients can have it and not know. However, the disease kills more people than HIV these days. Untreated patients put your staff at risk for exposure to the virus so talk to your patients about Hepatitis C. Ask them if they’ve been tested and encourage them to do it if the answer is no.

There is help for patients with no or limited insurance coverage. Check out the Caring Ambassadors program for a listing of HCV testing facilities that offer free or low cost hepatitis C screening services for those with limited resources due to lack of health insurance, lack of coverage for such testing, and/or limited financial resources. (http://hepcchallenge.org/hepatitis-c-testing-facilities/)