Harvard Men's Health Watch

Panel backs HCV test for baby boomers

A national panel of experts on disease prevention, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), now recommends that all Americans born from 1946 to 1964 should be tested at least once for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. The recommendation follows an earlier call for wider screening for hidden HCV by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HCV infects the liver. Over time it can cause inflammation, liver damage, and cancer. The infected person's blood can transmit the virus. Past or present intravenous drug users and anyone in the United States who received a blood transfusion before 1992 are at heightened risk. Most of the estimated 3.2 million Americans now infected are unaware they have the virus. Prolonged treatments with antiviral drugs can prevent further liver damage and the need for a transplant.

The task force previously declined to recommend general screening, citing lack of clear evidence that checking for hidden infections in people without symptoms leads to more benefit than harm. But targeting screening to those at highest risk has failed to stem the flood of new infections. Although some people swept up in the net of mass screening may receive treatment for infections that might not have caused them any problems in their lifetime, the public health risks of not dealing with the huge pool of undiagnosed people are greater, the USPSTF concluded.

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