May 19th is Hepatitis Testing Day. So in honor of testing day, we are sharing important facts about hep C testing. Check out the who, what, where, when, and why of testing for the hepatitis C virus!
Who Should Be Tested
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends hepatitis C testing for:
- Adults born from 1945 through 1965 (a.k.a. Baby Boomers)
- Those currently injecting drugs
- Those who have ever injected drugs (even if only once or a few times many years ago)
- People with certain medical conditions, including those who were on long-term hemodialysis, have persistently abnormal alanine aminotransferase levels (ALT), or are infected with HIV
- People who have received organ transplants or transfusions before July 1992 or from a donor who later tested positive for HCV
- Healthcare, emergency medical, and public safety workers after possible exposure to HCV-positive blood
- Children born to HCV-positive women
If you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, or are wondering about hep C testing, talk to your doctor. You can read more about who should be tested here.
What does hep C testing involve?
The test for hepatitis C is a simple blood test. A hepatitis C screening test will check for antibodies to the hepatitis C virus. Antibodies are substances found in the blood that the body naturally produced in response to a virus in the body. If the antibody test is positive that means that the person was exposed to the hepatitis C virus at some point in his or her life; however, it does not always mean the virus is still present in the body, as sometimes the body can clear infection on its own. If the antibody test is positive, a doctor will likely order a second test to confirm whether the virus is still present in the bloodstream. If you test positive for hepatitis C, you may have and additional test to determine your hepatitis C genotype and other tests to check any damage to the liver.
When should people be tested?
If you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, you should be tested as soon as possible. If you have any risk factors or were born between 1945-1965, you should talk to your doctor about testing.
Where can people be tested for hep C?
If you have a regular doctor, you can ask about hepatitis C testing at your next appointment appointment. If you are concerned you may have been exposed and do not know where to go, you can find a health center here.
Testing is NOT part of routine physical exam, this is why it is important to discuss any risks or concerns about hep C with your doctor. If your insurance will not cover a test or you do not have insurance, call your State CDC Viral Hepatitis Coordinators and ask if they know where free or low cost testing is taking place in your area. CDC Coordinators can be found at: Viral Hepatitis Prevention Coordinators List.
Why should people be tested if they don’t have symptoms?
Hepatitis C often goes many years without noticeable symptoms. Chronic infection can affect a person without causing obvious symptoms, even if there is damage to the liver. Symptoms may worsen if the virus causes significant liver damage. The symptoms of chronic hepatitis C include:
- Fatigue (feeling tired)
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Fever (low-grade)
- Decreased appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain, particularly in the upper right quadrant
- Dark urine (tea-colored)
- Gray-colored bowel movements
- Jaundice (yellow colored skin or eyes)
Testing is the only way to ensure that those who are infected do not develop chronic hepatitis C. So, get tested and share this information with others – you may save a life!1-4