New Guidelines Promote Expanded Hepatitis C Screening in U.S.

New guidelines released this week urge millions more people to be screened for hepatitis C. The call for expanded screening for Americans ages 18 to 79 is the first change since 2013 when U.S. health authorities recommended all baby boomers get a hepatitis C test because that age group appeared at particularly high risk.

Prompting the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Monday recommendation for expanded testing is the rise in hepatitis C stemming from the opioid crisis. Sharing needles is the main way that hepatitis C spreads in the U.S.

Health experts estimate that only about half of people with hepatitis C know they are infected. Finding infection early is critical now that drug treatments are available that can cure most people and the cost of those medications has declined.

The task force concluded that more widespread screening would ultimately save costs, giving its recommendation a rating that requires insurance companies to cover testing without patient co-pays.

About 2.4 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis C, and there were an estimated 44,700 new infections in 2017 alone.