Health Check: Hepatitis C testing

By Barbara Morse Silva

The Centers for Disease Control believes one in 30 baby boomers is walking around with the chronic liver viral infection known as hepatitis C.

Experts say the problem is that most won't know they have the virus until it's done its damage. The virus kills 15,000 people a year.

"The CDC is now recommending that all baby boomers have a one-time blood test for hep C," said Dr. Lynn Taylor of the Miriam Hospital.

It's a screening blood test, specifically for those people born between 1945 and 1965.

"It may be that years ago, once you had an injection for a vitamin or a hormone or a steroid or that people had gotten a blood transfusion before we could test for the virus, so again, we think most people walking around with hepatitis C don't know about it," Taylor said.

Taylor specializes in infectious diseases at The Miriam Hospital. She said a liver enzyme test isn't enough. The CDC is actually recommending a more specific hepatitis C screening test if it's positive and a follow up test.

"We are at the beginning of a revolution in hepatitis C viral therapies. The new medications that are coming out are highly potent, highly effective," Taylor said.

Taylor said she believes by the year 2015, almost 100 percent of people with hepatitis C will be cured using pills alone that are safer and better tolerated.

For those who are uninsured or underinsured, low and no-cost testing is available through a partnership between The Miriam Hospital, the Rhode Island Department of Health and AIDS Care Ocean State.

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