Hepatitis C screenings should be expanded, federal task force

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Hepatitis C screenings should be expanded, federal task force

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is recommending all adults between 18 and 79 get screened for hepatitis C to address the rise of infections in recent years.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on Tuesday proposed recommending clinicians screen all adults between the ages of 18 and 79 for the hepatitis C virus regardless of their risk level for contracting the disease.

The expert panel’s draft recommendation is a departure from its 2013 screening guidelines that called for screening adults at high risk for hepatitis C, and to test individuals born between 1945 and 1965 at least once.

The change is a direct result of the steady rise in hepatitis C infections seen over the past decade as a result of the ongoing opioid epidemic. The number of hepatitis C cases reported in the U.S. nearly tripled from 2010 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All in all, an estimated 41,200 acute hepatitis C cases occurred in 2016.

“Today, more people are infected with hepatitis C than there were a decade ago, but there are now better treatments available,” task force Chair Dr. Douglas Owens said in a statement. “The evidence now shows more people can benefit from screening.”

The task force also suggested clinicians consider screening patients who are younger than 18 and older than 79 if they are at high risk for infection, as well as pregnant women. All of those groups have seen more hepatitis C cases over the past decade.

Hepatitis C is the most common chronic bloodborne disease in the U.S. and is associated with more annual deaths than any other infection. More than 18,000 people died from hepatitis C infections in 2016, which the CDC acknowledged is likely an underestimate.

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