The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that adults of the baby boomer generation undergo screenings for hepatitis C.
According to The New York Times, 75 percent of the infected population in America is from the baby boomer era, which includes people born in the years 1945 through 1965. The reason why this generation is greatly affected by hepatitis C is still unknown.
There are approximately 3 million Americans who are infected with the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that there could be 800,000 undiagnosed hepatitis C patients living today.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has rated the hepatitis C screening as a "B," meaning that health insurance companies are supposed to cover the its costs without co-payments. Any preventive service rated as an A or B is to be paid for by insurance companies, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Before the health insurance companies were expected to cover the full cost of the screening, patient contributions could reach up to $150 dollars per test.
Initially the task force rated the screening as a C in November 2012, but after reviewing recent studies, the decision was made that recommended testing would be beneficial. In general, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force puts out an alert that encourages people to be tested for a disease or virus, people are more likely to go, rather than choosing to get tested on their own.
Opportunities for drug companies
The recommended hepatitis C testing is beneficial to drug companies that create drugs to treat the virus. The testing will uncover more affected patients, which will raise demand for treatment. Drug companies such as Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Vertex, AbbVie, and Gilead Sciences are competing to create the most effective drug. The Wall Street Journal reported that current drugs on the market can reduce the need for infusions of pegylated interferon and decrease treatment time. Sufficient treatment can result in sustained viral response, SVR, which is when the virus is no longer detected in the blood.
The reason that effective drug development is so important is because the virus is contagious. It is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, most commonly through contaminated needles or infected blood accessing open wounds, eyes or mouths.
Many people can have the virus without even knowing it, as there can be mild or no symptoms at times. However, if there are no symptoms, it is still important to be treated. Hepatitis C has serious consequences that can end fatally. The Times predicted that around 15,000 deaths in America are caused initially by hepatitis C. The consequences from the virus can appear years later after a person is infected, some of which include serious liver issues, such as scarring, cancer and liver failure.