New study casts doubt on wisdom of mass hepatitis C testing

Widespread screening for hepatitis C — a recommendation that has been aggressively pushed by public health officials, with the advent of new, expensive drugs to cure the viral infection and prevent liver-disease deaths — may be premature, a group of scientists is arguing.

In a paper published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal, the scientists say there’s little concrete evidence that screening all Baby Boomers for hepatitis C — a policy endorsed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health agencies — will save lives. Plus screening and treatment could cause unnecessary harm to millions of people who test positive for the virus but never experience any ill effects from it, they say.

“The question is whether these aggressive screening policies are justified and whether they would result in more benefit than harm,” said Dr. John Ioannidis, a Stanford epidemiologist and an author of the paper. “We know very little about the potential harms of these drugs, especially in the long-term. And we don’t know how they will translate into long-term benefits.”

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