The U.S. government is calling for all baby boomers to be tested for hepatitis C, which kills more Americans each year than AIDS and is the leading reason for liver transplants.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the recommendation to find hundreds of thousands of people who have the infection, but don’t know it. Hepatitis C greatly increases the chances of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer.
It’s transmitted by blood, usually through intravenous drug use or transfusions. Extremely small amounts of the virus are able to cause infection. Some experts believe that rolled-up dollar bills used to snort cocaine and passed person-to-person can carry enough infected blood to transmit the virus.
Epidemiologists estimate that 3.2 million Americans are infected, three-quarters of them baby boomers. The disease kills at least 15,000 people a year. That means there are probably one-tenth the number of cases here in Canada.
The CDC’s strategy calls for a one-time voluntary blood test for everyone born from 1945 to 1965.
Treatment of hepatitis C infection takes at least six months and consists of pills and a weekly injection. The cure rate used to be less than 30 percent; with a new three-drug strategy, it can be as high as 75 percent.