TUESDAY, Aug. 27, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Hepatitis C infection rates have exploded in the United States, more than tripling over the past decade.
Because of this, routine screening for hepatitis C — which can destroy the liver over time — should occur in all American adults, a key government panel recommended Tuesday.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued a draft guideline calling for hepatitis C screening in all adults aged 18 to 79.
This would open up free hepatitis C testing to millions. Under federal law, insurers are required to provide the preventive screenings recommended by the task force cost-free.
The new recommendation is an update from the USPSTF’s previous guideline, issued in 2013, which called for hepatitis C testing mainly among baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965, task force chairman Dr. Doug Owens said.
“The reason for that was that’s where most of the hepatitis C virus was, in people of that age group,” Owens said.
However, “A lot has changed since the last time we did a recommendation statement,” he explained. “The rates of hepatitis C have gone up in a broader range of people, especially in younger people.”
The surge in hepatitis C infection is a public health dilemma spurred mainly by the opioid epidemic, since the most important risk factor for infection is past or current injection drug use, Owens said.
Rates of hepatitis C infection increased about 3.5-fold between 2010 and 2016, the task force said in its recommendation.
The increase has mostly affected young white people who inject drugs, especially those living in rural areas, the task force said.
About one-third of people who inject drugs ages 18 to 30 are infected with hepatitis C, the task force estimates. About 70% to 90% of older people who inject drugs are infected.
“We have 2.5 million people with hepatitis C and probably half of those people do not know it,” Owens said. “Hepatitis C unfortunately has become a much larger public health problem.”
Another factor influencing the new recommendation is the availability of effective cures for hepatitis C, Owens said.