Who Should be Tested for Hepatitis C?
You may have noticed that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that baby boomers be tested for hepatitis C virus. Baby boomers are people born between 1945 and 1965. There are commercials on television, ads in newspapers throughout the United States, and internet websites that are encouraging this testing. One in every thirty baby boomers will test positive for the virus. It is a good idea to know your status. Hepatitis C is very often an asymptomatic disease that is damaging your liver without you being aware that you are ill. However, baby boomers are not the only cohort of people who should be tested.
HCV antibody testing
It may be a good idea to ask your primary care physician for a one-time antibody test that will show whether you have ever been exposed to the hepatitis virus. If that test is positive, your doctor will order an HCV/RNA test to confirm that you have hepatitis C. If that test is negative, (undetected) you likely do not have the virus. Either your body fought it off without treatment, or it is a false positive. If the RNA test finds virus in your blood, do not despair. The new direct acting antivirals are curing the vast majority of people, often with minimal side effects, and a short duration of treatment.
Hepatitis C is a blood born pathogen. So infected blood has to enter the blood stream of a non-infected person in order to transmit the disease. The amount of blood to do this is so small that it does not have to be enough to be seen. Infected blood may live outside the body for up to 21 days.
Do you know the risk factors?
There are a number of ways infected blood can get into your blood stream. Anyone who has had a blood transfusion prior to 1992, or an organ transplant or has used blood products such as hemophiliacs, may be infected. Approximately five percent of people born to infected mothers will develop the virus. Anyone who has shared a needle with a person who injects drugs, even one time, has a higher risk. Of lower risk, but still possible, people who have gotten tattoos or piercings under unsanitary conditions, as are healthcare workers who have gotten needle sticks. Also at risk are people who have shared personal hygiene items that may have blood on them, even microscopically, such as razors, manicure items, and toothbrushes.
You may need to ask to be tested
Typically, the hepatitis C antibody test is NOT part of your regular physical exam. It is a special blood test that is not routinely offered when you go for your annual physical. If you are a baby boomer, your insurance will most likely pay for a one-time test. If you are not in that age group and want a test, but insurance will not pay, 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.
Testing can save your life
Do something pro-active, consider asking your doctor to test you for hepatitis C. It may save your life.
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