A new walk-in service for free hepatitis C screenings opens today at the University of Arizona Medical Center.

The UA Health Network's Liver Research Institute begins the 20-minute finger prick blood screenings at 8 a.m. at the UA Medical Center's university campus, 1501 N. Campbell Ave. The screenings are being conducted Fridays only from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the hospital's sixth floor multi-specialty outpatient clinic.

Information regarding a walk-in screening appointment is available at 621-HEPC (4372). Minimal registration is involved.

The UA Medical Center is the only local place to get free hepatitis C screenings at this time, UA officials say.

The screenings are free to anyone, but baby boomers in particular are being urged to get tested. People born between 1945 and 1962 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than people not in that age group.

Baby boomers came of age at a time before the virus was identified in 1989, and many contracted it through blood transfusions, organ transplants and recreational drug use.

The concern is that over time hepatitis C can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver transplantation and even death, says Dr. Thomas D. Boyer, who is director of the UA's Liver Research Institute and also chair of the UA department of medicine.

Most people don’t know they are infected. Because of the risk of being a hepatitis C carrier, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all people in this baby boomer age group be screened for the virus.

"The CDC recommends it, but a lot of community physicians don't screen," Boyer said. "You acquire it when you are young and foolish and then 30 years later cirrhosis of the liver pops up."

Hepatitis C is the most common indicator for a liver transplant, he said.

Any patients testing positive at the screening will need to follow up testing, Boyer said.

He stressed that there is significant hope for the patients who are positive and seek treatment.

A new hepatitis C drug therapy is expected to be available by the end of the year. A single tablet combination of sofosbuvir and ledipasvir has shown to have a short treatment time, minimal side effects and a high cure rate for patients with the common type one strain.