Why Most Adults Should Get Tested for Hepatitis C

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In recent years, there’s been a significant increase in the number of American adults who contract hepatitis C, a virus that infects the liver and causes chronic inflammation, which can lead to serious complications. With cases continuously on the rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults aged 18 years and older get tested for hepatitis C at least once–especially because hepatitis C rarely shows symptoms before it’s severe, and testing is the only way to know your status. Most cases of hepatitis C can be cured, but testing comes before treatment.

Understanding More About Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C spreads through body fluids and blood. Today, the most common way to contract hep C is through sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment used to inject drugs. Hep C can also spread by getting tattoos or body piercings with non-sterile instruments, by sharing personal healthcare items like razors, and in rare cases, through sex. Before we understood hepatitis C, some people were infected with hep C after blood transfusions. However, today we screen donated blood carefully and the risk of hep C transmission through blood transfusions is extremely low. For several years, hepatitis C cases in the U.S. were decreasing, as blood donations became more strictly screened and new treatments offered a cure to the majority of those infected. However, in recent years, hepatitis C cases have been on the rise, in large part due to the opioid epidemic. People who inject drugs like opioids are at high risk of contracting hep C, even if they only did it once or it was a long time ago. That’s why it’s important for adults to get tested–it’s the only way to know if you have this infection, because most people who have hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms. When they do experience symptoms, that’s typically a sign of severe liver damage.

For those who do have symptoms, the most common are:

If hepatitis C goes untreated, it can cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. It’s the most common reason for liver transplants in the U.S.

What to Expect from a Hepatitis C Test

You’ll be tested for the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in one or two phases. First, your doctor will give you a blood test to check for HCV antibodies. You may also hear this referred to as an anti-HCV test. If your test result is negative, you don’t have hepatitis C, and you can breathe a little easier. If your result is positive, your doctor will give you an HCV RNA test to check your viral load. This shows whether your hepatitis C is currently active and how much of the virus, if any, is in your system. This information helps personalize your treatment plan.

Treatment Options for Hepatitis C

More than 90% of people diagnosed with hepatitis C can be cured with prescription antiviral medications taken by mouth for 8 to 12 weeks. These are called pan-genotypic direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), and they tend to have minimal side effects. Several options are available, and it’s important to weigh the benefits and risks with your doctor.

After treatment, your doctor will likely recommend follow-up hepatitis C tests. You can get hepatitis C more than once, and it can become a chronic condition if it’s not treated appropriately. There’s not yet a vaccine for hepatitis C, but you can reduce your risk by handling needles properly, seeking help for substance abuse, adopting safer sex practices, and not sharing personal items. Take the first step to better peace of mind by making an appointment for your test.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 12
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  4. Hepatitis C Viral Load / HCV RNA quantitative testing-Hepatitis C for Patients. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.hepatitis.va.gov/hcv/patient/diagnosis/labtests-RNA-quantitative-testing.asp
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