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Hepatitis C

Testing baby boomers saves lives

May 2013

 VitalSigns 

A person's silhouette

Virus3 Million

About 3 million adults in the US are infected with the hepatitis C virus, most are baby boomers.

People3 in 4

Up to 3 in 4 people who are infected don't know they have hepatitis C so they aren't getting the necessary medical care.

Calendar1945-1965

Baby boomers, anyone born from 1945 through 1965, should get tested for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is a serious virus infection that over time can cause liver damage and even liver cancer. Early treatment can prevent this damage. Too many people with hepatitis C do not know they are infected, so they don't get the medical care they need.

Once infected with the hepatitis C virus, nearly 8 in 10 people remain infected for life. A simple blood test, called a hepatitis C antibody test, can tell if you have ever been infected, but cannot tell whether you are still infected. Only a different follow-up blood test can determine if you are still infected. CDC data show only half of people with a positive hepatitis C antibody test had the follow-up test reported to the health department. The other half did not have a follow-up test reported, although some of them may have been tested. Without the follow-up test, a person will not know if they still have hepatitis C and cannot get the medical care they need.

Baby boomers (people born from 1945 through 1965) can:

  • Ask your doctor, nurse, or other health care provider for a hepatitis C blood test.
  • Encourage family and friends born from 1945 through 1965 to get tested for hepatitis C.

Doctors, nurses and other health care providers can:

  • Test all baby boomers and people with other risks for hepatitis C.
  • Make sure everyone who tests positive on the first test gets the follow-up test to find out if they are still infected.

Issue Details

Problem

Many baby boomers got infected before the dangers of hepatitis C were well known.


Anyone can get hepatitis C, but adults born from 1945 through 1965 are 5 times more likely to have hepatitis C.

  • Hepatitis C is mostly spread through contact with an infected person's blood.
  • Some people could have gotten infected before widespread screening of blood began in 1992.
  • People who have injected drugs, even if only once in the past, could have been infected with the virus from sharing a needle or drug equipment with someone who had hepatitis C.
  • Many people do not know how or when they were infected.

Hepatitis C causes serious liver disease, even liver cancer.

  • Most people with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms. If symptoms do appear, they can be a sign of serious liver damage.
  • Hepatitis C can cause liver scarring and liver failure if left untreated.
  • Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer.
  • Successful treatment can get rid of hepatitis C from the body.

Blood tests are needed to tell if you have hepatitis C.

  • A screening blood test, called an antibody test, shows if a person has ever been infected with the hepatitis C virus.
  • If the antibody test is positive, a follow-up RNA blood test is needed to see if a person is still infected with the hepatitis C virus.
  • A CDC study shows through health department reports that only 50% of adults who had a positive antibody test had a follow-up test reported. Without a follow-up test, people won't know if they are still infected with the hepatitis C virus.

SOURCE: CDC Recommendations 1998, 1999, and 2012

Infographic

Test Patients Born from 1945 through 1965 for Hepatitis C

SOURCE: CDC updated guidance, 2013



Test Patients Born from 1945 through 1965 for Hepatitis C

Baby boomers, anyone born from 1945 through 1965, should ask their health care provider to be tested for hepatitis C and all doctors, nurses, and other health care providers should test all their patients who are baby boomers for hepatitis C.  Testing should be initiated with a blood test for hepatitis C antibody.

If the blood test for hepatitis C antibody is negative, then there is no hepatitis C virus infection and no further action needed.

If the blood test for hepatitis C antibody is positive, then there needs to be a follow-up RNA blood test for hepatitis c virus infection.

If the RNA is negative, then there is hepatitis C virus infection and no further action needed.

If the RNA is positive, then there is hepatitis C virus infection.  Refer for further evaluation and connect to medical care.

What Can Be Done

Icon: US governmentUS government is:

  • Working together with many federal agencies to carry out the Strategic Action Plan for Viral Hepatitis [PDF - 672KB].
  • Funding programs that support hepatitis C testing and getting people linked to care and treatment.
  • Educating doctors, nurses, and other health care providers about hepatitis C, developing clinical tools and issuing updated guidance to help carry out recommended testing.
  • Working with states and communities to improve reporting of hepatitis C test results in order to get people needed services.
  • Increasing coverage under the Affordable Care Act so more people will have health insurance for testing and treatment.

Icon: BuildingsState and local public health departments can:

  • Let people know where they can get blood tests for hepatitis C.
  • Follow-up with health care providers and laboratories for people who have a positive hepatitis C antibody test but have no record of a follow-up test.
  • Monitor and report people with hepatitis C infection and promote best practices for testing and linking patients to care.

Doctors and nursesDoctors, nurses, and other health care providers can:

  • Set up systems to make to make sure all patients born from 1945 through 1965 are tested for hepatitis C.
  • Test patients with other risks for hepatitis C, including blood transfusions before 1992 or injection drug use.
  • Make sure everyone who has a positive hepatitis C antibody test gets the follow-up blood RNA test and is linked to lifesaving care and treatment if infected.

Icon: Business professionalsBaby boomers and all persons at risk can:

Icon: Man and womanPeople living with hepatitis C can:

  • Eat a healthy diet, stay physically active, see a doctor on a regular basis and ask if you could benefit from new and better treatments.
  • Talk to your doctor before taking over the counter medicines and avoid alcohol because they can cause liver damage.
  • Reduce the risk of transmission to others by not donating blood or sharing personal items that might come into contact with blood.

Science Behind the Issue

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  • Page last reviewed: May 7, 2013
  • Page last updated: May 7, 2013
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