Half of Hepatitis C Patients Don’t Get Full Testing, CDC Says

Only 51 percent of people in the U.S. who test positive for hepatitis C received the necessary follow-up to determine if they require medical care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 80 percent of people can’t fight off the virus that attacks the liver on their own. Without a follow-up, these patients may not get the health care they need, the Atlanta-based government health agency said today in a report.

A screening test shows if a person has ever been infected by the virus that usually spreads through contact with infected blood. If that antibody test is positive, a follow-up determines if the person is still infected and needs medical treatment. About 3.2 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis C, which can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer. The CDC recommends that people born from 1945 to 1965 get tested, as 75 percent of infected adults were born in this period.

“You may not remember everything that happened in the ’60s and ’70s, but your liver does,” Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC said today in a conference call with reporters. “The bottom line here is if you’re born between those years, get tested.”

Authorities say many people in the targeted group may have been infected in their teens and 20s, either through blood transfusions or with experimental drug use, and don’t know they have the virus. Hepatitis C often shows no symptoms while it damages the liver.

Drugmakers including Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD), Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMY) and AbbVie Inc. (ABBV) are competing to develop new treatments for hepatitis C that can cut the time for treatment and don’t cause side effects such as flu-like symptoms. Analysts estimate the global market for such pills is $20 billion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in San Francisco at elopatto@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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