Risk Factors for Hepatitis C

How do I know whether I have ever been exposed?

If you have ever received a tattoo from an unlicensed tattoo shop or tattoo artist, if you have received a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1992, if you have ever used IV drugs, if your mother ever had hepatitis C, or if you are or have ever been a health care worker who might have ever been accidentally pricked by a needle at work, you may be at risk.

If I might have been exposed, how worried should I be?

This is not the type of illness that will kill you if it takes a week or even a year to be seen by your physician. However, hepatitis C can impact your body and your daily life, so it is important to get tested as soon as possible if you believe you have been exposed to the virus.

When the virus lives inside the body, it can significantly impact the liver’s ability to function properly. This can lead to constipation, digestive issues, jaundice, malnutrition, or even permanent liver damage. In addition, as the liver is unable to function at full capacity, the other organs in the body have to work harder to try to compensate. This can lead to unnecessary stress on those organs as well.

However, medical treatment can intervene and lead to resolution for these ailments, allowing the person to return to a typical life in a fairly short period of time. Most often, this resolution comes in the form of pills and special dietary recommendations. There is no reason to be afraid, but there is certainly reason to find out as soon as possible so you can quickly begin to heal your body.

How do I find out if I have hepatitis C?

There are two tests that can be run to find out if you have hepatitis C. The first is called an ELISA test. This test measures whether your blood has antibodies in it. When a person has been exposed to a virus, the body’s immune system sends antibodies through the blood stream to battle that particular virus. The ELISA test measures whether your blood has the antibodies in it to fight the hepatitis C virus, which would be present in your blood two to three months after you have been exposed to hepatitis C. If you test positive for this, you will likely be provided with a secondary test. This is because 15%-25% of people who have been exposed to hepatitis C naturally fight it off. In other words, testing positive for antibodies does not automatically mean you have hepatitis C.

For the secondary RNA test, your body’s viral load is tested. This will provide the information to determine whether your body fought off the virus or whether your body has the virus. If you test positive for this (meaning your body does have the active virus), you will be given a third and final test: the genotype test. This is because there are many types of hepatitis C, and knowing which strain or strains your body has can help your doctors to know how to best treat and cure it.

What do I do if I have hepatitis C?

If you have tested positive for hepatitis C, this means you have been to a clinic, hospital, or other testing facility. When you receive the results, there will likely be someone there to guide you through your questions and processing the information. This person may be the person who performed the test, the person who delivered the results, or someone else. You may want to ask for paper and a pen or you may want to ask them for permission to record the conversation on your phone. This way, you will be able to review what has been said once the surprise and confusion have begun to wear off.

As the person guides you through understanding your test results and helps you to understand what happens next regarding further testing and/or treatment options, you may find that you feel overwhelmed. This is completely normal. It is perfectly okay to verbalize this to the clinician and to either ask to set up a meeting at another time or to ask about pamphlets or literature which you can review from home.

In fact, the clinician may already offer such to you or they may recommend contacting them again via phone or email if you have further questions later, as they understand that sometimes additional concerns arise through this process.

As each person’s medical history and their hepatitis C status is personal, it is impossible for any website to tell you exactly what to expect for your own treatment needs. However, your doctor will have access to your medical records and is more than willing to consistently discuss your treatment options and help you decide which is the best course of action for your body.1-3

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