Following recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a group of health experts put together by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has suggested that all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for the hepatitis C virus. This group contains 75 percent of all people in the country with the disease, totaling close to three million people in the U.S. and over 180 million people globally.
Hepatitis C is a virus that can lay dormant for decades but cause serious harm to a person's liver, causing constant damage, scarring, cirrhosis, cancer, and even liver failure. The majority of liver transplants performed in the U.S. are done because a patient had their liver destroyed by the disease. The virus can be passed through blood and other bloodily fluids. Those who have been on dialysis and use intranasal drugs are at increased risk as well. The virus was one spread through improper tattooing procedures used years ago.
But there are new treatments around the corner, with two already under FDA review, that have shown above 90 percent cure rates. Current treatments do not have as high cure rates and show side effects that leave people feeling as if they have the flu perpetually. The new medications do not have such side effects and have been well-tolerated. These medications could be on the market as soon as the end of this year, coming in a simple-to-use pill form and offering high rates of cures within months, not years.
Around three-fourths of all people with hepatitis C virus infections do not know that they carry the virus, until they show signs and symptoms. The number of livers available does not match the number of patients who currently require a transplantation, which means that patients die while on the waiting list. In 2012, there were 6,256 liver transplants performed. As of June 7, 2013, there are 16,484 patients waiting for a suitable organ.
Being tested for Hepatitis C is fast and easy, and can be done in a doctor's office during a regular checkup with a small blood sample.
Source: Moyer V. Screening for Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Adults: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2013.