In an effort to prevent liver disease, doctors at Baylor College of Medicine are supporting the latest recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding screening for hepatitis C virus infection.
The CDC’s recommendations, which are supported by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, state that all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 go through a one-time screening for the disease with the goal of reducing the number of people at risk for progression to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. This will also reduce the number of patients competing on the waiting list for a liver transplant.
Focus on age group
"Simply put, the baby boomer generation contains more than 75 percent of the estimated 3 million Americans infected with hepatitis C," said Dr. John Vierling, professor of medicine and surgery at BCM. "Since at least 70 percent of those infected have never been diagnosed, it makes sense to focus screening on this age group."
Vierling, who is also director of Baylor Liver Health, chief of hepatology and director of Advanced Liver Therapies at St. Luke's Hospital, said this type of infection usually causes no symptoms until a person's liver disease is too far advanced and difficult to treat with antiviral therapies.
People with cirrhosis of the liver caused by hepatitis C infection have increased risks of liver failure and liver cancers. For these patients, liver transplantation becomes the only hope of survival. In America, the number of people with cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer caused by hepatitis C infection have been dramatically increasing, Vierling said.
Early antiviral therapy
"Screening allows for detection at the earliest possible time, which will increase the chance of successful antiviral therapy. This can result in a permanent cure of the infection," Vierling said. "Our research unit, Advanced Liver Therapies, has been active in studies of new antiviral drugs to treat these types of infections, which could be approved by the FDA in the coming months."