When a person thinks they may have been exposed to hepatitis C, this realization can cause a myriad of feelings. Many of these feelings relate to both how the person was likely exposed and how they became aware that they may have been exposed. For example, a medical professional may become exposed to the virus during work and may consider the potential exposure to simply be a risk of their job and not feel very concerned. Another person may find out that they may have been exposed due to being tattooed by a friend at an unlicensed tattoo facility and they may feel angry at the tattoo artist about not being told they were taking this risk at the time of tattooing. A third person may have discovered that they should be tested for hepatitis C because their past use of IV drugs put them at risk. That person may feel shame or embarrassment that they have to disclose their previous drug use even if they have been sober for a number of years. However you are feeling is okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel about discovering you may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus. All that matters is getting tested.
Some people have health insurance. They may choose to use that insurance to schedule an appointment with their regular primary care doctor’s office. Others do not have insurance or prefer not to use their insurance. These people may use the internet to seek out a nearby clinic or blood testing facility. There are also some people who only decide to be tested when they see signs offering free or low-cost testing at a location that is convenient or near a place they already frequent. Regardless of why or where you choose to be tested, most areas have numerous testing facility options available to fit all budgets, schedules, and preferences.
When a person enters the facility where they will be getting tested, they may be asked to fill out paperwork. This paperwork typically asks questions including personal information (name, birthdate, home address, etc.), as well as medical history (recent surgeries, current medications being taken, etc.). It is important to be as honest as possible on these forms so that the medical professional you see will be able to ask any questions you might not know could impact you or your test. There may be room on the form to list why you have come to the facility. This is where you can list that you wish to be tested. You can ask to be tested for hepatitis C only, or you could ask to be tested for a wide variety of illnesses. If you are uncertain what tests you need, it is important to discuss your concerns with the nurse or care provider when you enter the exam room and to explain what activities you have participated in that may have led you to be exposed to illnesses.
When the forms are complete and you have had an initial discussion with the nurse or care provider, you may be weighed or be examined over your clothing, which may include having someone listen to your heart and lungs, check your reflexes, or ask to look inside your throat, eyes, and/or ears. These parts of the exam typically do not hurt and are simply meant to establish whether there are any symptoms you may not be aware of.
You may then be given a blood test. This test allows the laboratory to test for hepatitis C and for any other blood related problems, depending on what you requested to be tested for and what your insurance and/or the facility considers a standard blood test.
Having blood drawn for this test is no different than any other blood draw. It typically occurs in the vein on the inside of the elbow on one of your arms and takes no more than a few moments. Although there may be a pinch or sting during the needle’s insertion, this is not typically considered to be a painful test. If you have a phobia of needles or another concern, it is important to discuss this beforehand with your care provider.
During this blood test, the doctor is checking to find out whether you have specific antibodies in your blood that show that you were exposed to hepatitis C. Antibodies are much like the body’s soldiers; they come to battle when there is an intruder (an illness) and different types of antibodies are present for different types of illnesses. This test will simply tell the doctors whether your body has ever been exposed to hepatitis C. The test might be called Anti-HCV, EIA, or RIBA testing.1-3
Read part 2 of Jenelle’s overview of the HCV testing process.
CDC DVH - Know More Hepatitis - Hepatitis C Overview. (2016). Cdc.gov. Retrieved 8 September 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis/learnmore.htm
Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public | Division of Viral Hepatitis | CDC. (2016). Cdc.gov. Retrieved 8 September 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm
Hepatitis C Testing. (2016). HEP. Retrieved 8 September 2016, from https://www.hepmag.com/basics/hepatitis-c-basics/hepatitis-c-testing