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Millions of Baby Boomers Could Have Hepatitis C

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Federal health officials are warning that deaths from the liver-destroying hepatitis C virus are on the rise, and that baby boomers are especially at risk.

It is estimated that two-thirds of those with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965. So some experts are recommending boomers get a one-time blood test to check for the virus — one that can otherwise go undetected and cause damage for decades.

Needle-sharing during illegal drug use is the biggest risk factor for becoming infected with the blood-borne hepatitis C virus, but before 1992, when widespread testing of the blood supply began, it was often spread through blood transfusions.

“One of every 33 baby boomers are living with hepatitis C infection,” Dr. John Ward, hepatitis chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Associated Press. “Most people will be surprised, because it’s a silent epidemic.”

Officials are urging testing in light of two new drugs that have the potential to provide a cure. Research published Monday by the CDC indicates the cost of testing millions of middle-aged people would be worth it, since thousands of lives could be saved in the process.

The CDC study analyzed a decade of death records and found the 15,000 deaths related to hepatitis C in 2007 were higher than previous estimates. What’s more, they even surpassed the nearly 13,000 deaths caused by HIV/AIDS virus.

“Mortality will continue to grow for the next 10 to 15 years at least unless we do something different” to find and treat the silent sufferers, Dr. Ward said.

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