The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, USPSTF, announced its draft opinion on Monday, Nov. 26 in regards to recommendations for testing individuals for the presence of hepatitis C infection.
USPSTF Draft Opinion
In layman’s terms, the USPSTF is recommending that adults of any age who are at high risk for the infection be screened for hep C and that for baby boomers, anyone born between 1945 through 1965, physicians consider offering the blood screening test.
Preceding these recommendations, this independent panel of health experts explain that the recommendations being made apply to all adults with or without symptoms of hepatitis C and do not apply for adults who have not already been diagnosed with liver disease or evidence of liver dysfunction.
USPSTF Recommendation versus CDC Recommendation on Hep C Testing for Baby Boomers
In August 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that everyone born between 1945 through 1965 should have a blood screening test for the presence of hepatitis C.
The federal agency believed the recommendation was warranted due to the fact that 75 percent of adults infected with this chronic liver disease were born in that time period. Baby boomers are five time more likely than other age groups to have this infection, due to some extent of the higher rate of injectable, illegal drug use during their young adulthoods and because anyone exposed to blood or blood products prior to 1992, when blood was first tested for presence of the hep C causative virus.
Although the USPSTF panel acknowledges these facts, a panel member explained to NewsmaxHealth.com that hepatitis C does not progress to worsening liver problems in everyone who has the infection. Another rationale was that because successful treatment isn’t available at this time for the various individual infections, recommending blanket testing doesn’t make sense.
A liver specialist, Dr. David Berstein, explained that current treatments are effective in 70 percent to 75 percent of individuals, with more treatments in the clinical research stage.
Importance of USPSTF Recommendations
Recommendations by USPSTF affect insurance coverage for a test or other preventive services. The Affordable Care Act is set up in such a way that the panel’s recommendations hold much gravity in coverage determination.
Public Comment Period on USPSTF Hep C Testing Recommendations
Following the issuance of a draft opinion by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, there is a period during which the public may submit comments about the topic. This window of opportunity for commenting on the hepatitis C testing recommendations runs from Nov. 27 through Dec. 24, 2012. The link for commenting is found at the USPSTF website.
I believe the CDC has the better approach to the diagnosis of hepatitis C in an age group that has the highest likelihood of infection. The CDC estimates that 800,000 individuals would test positive for hep C in the baby boomer group and that such testing could prevent up to 120,000 deaths.
Even if using the current successful treatment percentage of 70 percent, that represents 84,000 of those 120,000 people being alive.
Eighty-four thousand people is no paltry sum. And as new treatments are added to those already available, the percentage of people who can be successfully treated is likely to increase.
The fact that hepatitis C isn’t 100 percent treatable is, to me, an unconscionable rationale for ignorance — and essentially, that’s what the USPSTF is suggesting: Ignore the fact that more than three-quarters of a million people are risking their health because they have an infection of which they are not aware.
If we use that rationale for all illness, how many other diseases such as certain types of cancer, AIDS and more should we just shut the door on?
I’m going to make my opinion known to the USPSTF and I implore you to do the same.