Lack of Follow-Up Tests for Boomers With Hepatitis C Could Be Deadly

June 4, 2013

A recent study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that as many as 3 in 4 patients infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) are unaware of the infection. These patients would have initially tested positive for HCV antibodies, but never received a follow-up RNA test to determine if they still harbored the virus in their system. These carriers are at a much higher risk of developing liver cancer, but because they aren't tested further, don't receive the medication that could save their lives. Physicians suspecting HCV should order timely test and treat the disease. Failing to do so may cause serious harm and lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Baby Boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965, make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. population and are particularly at risk. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that all Baby Boomers be tested for HCV. In studies of HCV infections reported from 8 sites nationwide, the CDC found that 67% were from this age group. Additionally worrying is the fact that nearly three-quarters of deaths involving HCV infection occurred in this demographic group. In the past, HCV testing was reserved for those with known risk factors, like use of injection drugs, blood transfusions, or organ transplants, so it's likely that many Boomers have never been tested.

Left untreated, a hepatitis C viral infection can be life-threatening, leading to serious liver damage. Liver cancer is the most rapidly increasing cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., and the number of deaths caused by HCV has risen to 15,000 per year, which is double the number from a decade ago. A physician fails timely diagnose and treat hepatitis C may be guilty of medical malpractice.

The CDC's estimate that around 3 million adults in the U.S. are unknowingly infected with the hepatitis C virus reinforces the need for the follow-up test for Baby Boomers and others at risk. CDC Director Thomas Frieden recommends automatic systems for follow-up testing after a positive antibody test, as well as further care and treatment if necessary. He also cited a need for more efficient means of testing for HCV in physicians' offices, rather than relying on more time-consuming laboratory results.

Sources:

Medscape, CDC Urges Second Test to Catch Hepatitis C Infection 5-7-13

Medscape, CDC Says All Baby Boomers Should Be Tested for HCV, 8-17-2012