Hepatitis C: Testing & Prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), an estimated 2.7-3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C. Although there is currently no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C, you can reduce your chances of becoming infected.

Avoid sharing or reusing needles, syringes or any other equipment to prepare and inject drugs, steroids, hormones or other substances. Avoid using personal items that may have come into contact with an infected person’s blood, such as razors, nail clippers or toothbrushes. Also, do not get tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility or in an informal setting.

So why is it important to be tested for Hepatitis C? The answer lies in these statistics:

  • Millions of Americans have Hepatitis C but most don’t know it
  • 80% of people who get infected develop a chronic or lifelong infection
  • People with Hepatitis C often have no symptoms and many can live with an infection for decades without feeling sick
  • Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants
  • There are new treatments available that can eradicate the virus

A number of people are at greater risk for Hepatitis C:

  • Anyone who has injected drugs, even just once or many years ago
  • Anyone with certain medical conditions, such as chronic liver disease and HIV/AIDS
  • Anyone who has received donated blood or organs before 1992
  • Anyone born from 1945 through 1965
  • Anyone with abnormal liver tests or liver disease
  • Health and safety workers who have been exposed to blood on the job through a needle stick or injury with a sharp object
  • Anyone on hemodialysis
  • Anyone born to a mother with Hepatitis C

Doctors use a blood test, called a Hepatitis C Antibody Test, to find out if a person has ever been infected. Sometimes called the Anti-HCV Test, it looks for antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus. Antibodies are chemicals released into the bloodstream when someone gets infected. If the antibody test is reactive, an additional blood test, called an RNA or PCR test, is needed to determine if a person is currently infected. If the test is negative, the person does not have Hepatitis C. If the test is positive, this means a person currently has Hepatitis C and should talk to a doctor experienced in diagnosing and treating the disease.

Patients can also be tested using a cheek swab if they are squeamish about needles.

How is Chronic Hepatitis C Treated?

Several medications, called antivirals, can be used to treat chronic Hepatitis C and appear to be more effective and have fewer side effects than previous options. However, it is important to first be checked by a specialist who will determine appropriate medical care. Decisions about starting treatment are based on many factors: type of virus, the condition of the liver, etc.

For more information about Hepatitis C or to get screened, talk to your primary physician or visit www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis. Source: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

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