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CDC: All Boomers Need Hepatitis C Test

Boomers make up the majority of hepatitis C infections in the United States — though many don’t know they’re harboring it. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is officially recommending all boomers get screened for the liver-destroying virus. “Unless we take action, we project deaths will increase substantially,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden.

Unlike hepatitis B, for which two-thirds of cases are spread sexually, hepatitis C is mainly a blood-borne virus. Today it ‘s spread primarily through shared drug needles, says the CDC. But before the widespread screening of blood donations in the early 1990s, it was often spread through blood transfusions. Some cases may also come from tattoos, piercings, shared razor blades and toothbrushes, nail salons and snorted cocaine.

However it’s spread, it now affects an estimated 3.2 million Americans, and two-thirds of these cases are among boomers. Officials say boomers are five times more likely to be infected than other adults.

What makes hepatitis C particularly pernicious is that someone can be infected for several decades without showing any symptoms. But that doesn’t mean the virus is harmless during that period; it slowly and gradually scars the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. More than 15,000 Americans die each year from hepatitis C-related illnesses, says the CDC, and the number has been growing.

A one-time blood test can tell if someone has the virus. All people born from 1945 to 1965 who have not already been tested should ask to be tested at their next doctor visit, said Frieden.

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Photo: Ron Levine/Getty Images