Why Test for Hep C?
Have you been tested for hep C? You may wonder why you should get tested if you haven’t already. Some people may say or think, “I never used drugs, why would I get tested?” The answer depends on a few things that have been identified as putting people at higher risk for being exposed to the virus. If you are not aware of those “at higher risk” groups it may be a good idea to consider them and whether you fit into any of those groups. The most obvious and only because of the numbers is baby boomers born between 1945-1965, and the reason is not so simple as baby boomers being identified as being part of a generation who were thought to be the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” generation. This is not an accurate or fair assumption, especially since many were exposed due to blood transfusion, dentistry, and a whole range of medical procedures. Without question, some were exposed through drug use, whether or not they were so-called recreational users or occasional users while not taking precautions to mitigate risk.
Who Is At Risk?
Indigenous people are at higher risk and should seek testing, with prevalence as high as eight times the national average in some communities. Military personnel are at risk, with vaccinations being identified as a common transmission route. People from endemic countries are at higher risk for the same reasons as some of the other populations-medical procedures. Pregnant women are at risk of transmitting the virus through birth to their baby through what is called vertical transmission. Sex with multiple partners can also put you at risk, however low. The population most at risk for new infection is current drug users, and this includes intravenous (needles) snorting and crack pipe sharing. This group makes up the majority of new transmissions.
If you identify yourself as being in one of these at-risk groups you should get tested. If you have someone in your family or sphere of friends who fits into one of these groups please consider mentioning to them about getting tested.
Testing Is the Only Way to Know For Sure
Something I hear often is about how quickly it can take for a person to feel symptoms, which can take several years, and this is true for most but not all people. How quickly a person’s health worsens due to the virus varies widely and is not at all predictable. Some people can progress to severely compromised health in several decades while others much quicker and often without notice. There is also the consideration for the health of others. Sexual transmission risk is low, but low does not mean any risk, so if you have had sex with someone and you have hep C you can expose your partner, just as they can expose you.
Taking precautions to lower risk is something we have heard about for years with HIV with very little until recently about hepatitis C. Many of the same modes of transmission exist, but generally there must be blood to blood exposure, unlike HIV which can be passed through bodily fluids. Practicing safe sex is a good practice if not in a committed monogamous relationship. Sharing drug use equipment is crucial if you use drugs, and includes needles, snorting equipment, and crack pipes that may burn lips and cause bleeding. If you have had medical care abroad it is prudent to get tested on returning home.
Simply ask your health care provider to be tested, and remember you have no obligation to say why. I have covered here briefly why you or someone you know should consider testing, and it is your decision how you use the information provided.