By LIZA McCLELLAN, M.D.
Researchers took aim at baby boomers Wednesday, urging this group of Americans to get tested for hepatitis C and HIV - or possibly face liver failure.
Scientists at the AIDS 2012 conference in Washington, D.C., revealed data showing that those infected with HIV and hepatitis C are at very high risk for liver failure. But hepatitis C infection is often a silent illness, as it can often go undetected as some patients may have little to no symptoms.
Health officials believe hundreds of thousands of new hepatitis C infections occurred annually between the 1970s and 1980s, most of them in the younger adults of the era - the generation born from 1945 through 1965, known as the baby boomers. The hepatitis C virus was not identified until 1989.
The new data follows recommendations issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May urging all baby boomers should be tested for hepatitis C.
As more effective treatments for hepatitis C have become available, it is important to identify patients with the virus so that complications such as liver failure and liver cancer can be prevented. New medications on the market promise shorter treatment periods and fewer side effects for patients.
Dr. Victor Lo Re, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, presented data that revealed even HIV patients who are treated for HIV with anti-retrovirals are at higher risk than other patients for liver failure.
"Everyone who is at risk should be tested for both hepatitis C and HIV," he said.
Testing of baby boomers for hepatitis C could lead to 800,000 more boomers getting treatment and could possibly save more than 120,000 lives.