LOS ANGELES – The number of baby boomers dying from a “silent epidemic” of hepatitis C infections is increasing so rapidly that federal officials are planning a new nationwide push for widespread testing.
Three in four of the estimated 3.2 million people who have chronic hepatitis C – and a similar proportion of those who die from the disease – are baby boomers. Deaths from the virus nearly doubled between 1999 and 2007 to more than 15,000, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
Hepatitis C is the leading infectious cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and is the most common reason for liver transplants in the United States, according to the CDC. In 2007, deaths from the disease surpassed those linked to HIV, and the numbers of fatalities are expected to continue increasing, researchers reported.
“We have sort of a perfect storm of an age wave of people who are moving through time who are progressively becoming sicker from an infection that was acquired several decades ago,” said John Ward, director of the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the CDC. “We think we are at a very critical juncture.”