TUESDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- Only about half of Americans who are infected with hepatitis C undergo follow-up testing to determine if they are still infected, federal officials reported Tuesday.
"Many people who test positive on an initial hepatitis C test are not receiving the necessary follow-up test to know if their body has cleared the virus or if they are still infected," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an agency news release.
"Complete testing is critical to ensure that those who are infected receive the care and treatment for hepatitis C that they need in order to prevent liver cancer and other serious and potentially deadly health consequences," Frieden said.
A blood test, called an antibody test, is used to check if a person has ever been infected with hepatitis C. For people who have had a positive result, a follow-up test -- called an RNA test -- can determine if they are still infected so they can receive necessary care and treatment.
Some people's bodies can clear hepatitis C infection on their own, but about 80 percent of people with hepatitis C remain infected and can develop major health problems.
In this study, researchers analyzed data from eight regions across the United States. Only 51 percent of the hepatitis C patients reported in these regions had a follow-up test, according to the Vital Signs report from the CDC.
"Hepatitis C has few noticeable symptoms, and left undiagnosed it threatens the health of far too many Americans -- especially baby boomers," Dr. John Ward, director of the CDC's Division of Viral Hepatitis, said in the news release. "Identifying those who are currently infected is important because new effective treatments can cure the infection better than ever before, as well as eliminate the risk of transmission to others."
About 3 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, and as many as 75 percent do not know they are infected. The study found that 67 percent of all reported cases of current hepatitis C infection were among baby boomers, which includes people born from 1945 through 1965.
All people born in the United States during those years should be tested for hepatitis C, the CDC advised. The agency also recommended testing for other people at increased risk, including injection-drug users and people who received blood transfusions or organ transplants before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992.
May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, and May 19 is National Hepatitis Testing Day.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about hepatitis C.