Half of all patients who have tested positive for hepatitis C have not had follow-up testing to see if they are still infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That means many people are living with the disease and not receiving the necessary treatment to prevent health problems, officials said this week.
Hepatitis C is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and is the most common reason for liver transplants in the United States.
The findings prompted the CDC to issue new guidelines urging healthcare providers to do a follow-up test on anyone who tests positive to an hepatitis C antibody test, which determines whether someone has ever been infected. The follow-up test, called an RNA test, tells whether a patient is still infected. The new guidelines are designed to improve identification of hepatitis C patients and to reduce transmission of the disease.
"Identifying those who are currently infected is important because new effective treatments can cure the infection better than ever before, as well as eliminate the risk of transmission to others," John Ward, director of CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, said in a statement.
Three million Americans have hepatitis C, and three-quarters of those infected do not know they have the disease, according to the CDC. Two-thirds of all cases -- and 72% of all deaths -- are among baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965.
Want to gauge your own risk? Take this quiz on the CDC website. And for more background on hepatitis C and how to treat it, check out this site and this one from the CDC. The public health agency has also distilled its message into this infographic.
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