FRIDAY, Dec. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Of all the diseases people worry about getting, viral hepatitis is usually way down on the list. Most often it's thought of as a disease that affects only drug addicts or the sexually promiscuous. Though those groups are at higher risk, almost anyone can contract hepatitis.
"The vast majority of people who have viral hepatitis, especially hepatitis C, don't know they have it, and that's the biggest problem we have with hepatitis," said Dr. David Bernstein, chief of hepatology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
A bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress last year, the Viral Hepatitis Testing Act of 2011, that would establish a national system to identify the incidence of hepatitis B and C infections, and provide funding to increase the availability of testing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2 million U.S. baby boomers are infected with hepatitis C and many more may have the disease but not know it because it often doesn't cause symptoms until it has caused severe liver damage. The CDC recommends that all people born between 1945 and 1965 -- the baby boom generation -- get a blood test test for the disease, and estimates that this would identify about 800,000 additional people as having hepatitis C, which could save more than 120,000 lives.
Last month, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new guidelines, updated from 2004, that take a somewhat softer stance than those of the CDC. Instead of recommending screening for all baby boomers, the task force suggests that clinicians "consider" screening for this age group.
Hepatitis C is one of the three most common forms of viral hepatitis, the other two being hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, and when that inflammation is caused by a viral infection, the disease is known as viral
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