Getting Tested Is The Only Way To Know If You Have Hepatitis C
A blood test called a hepatitis C antibody test can tell if you have been infected with the hepatitis C viruseither recently or in the past. If you have a positive antibody test, another blood test is needed to tell if you are still infected or if you were infected in the past and cleared the virus on your own.
- Are 18 years of age and older
- Currently inject drugs
- Have ever injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
- Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Are on hemodialysis
Tests For The Hepatitis C Virus
If your doctor thinks that you may have hepatitis C, he or she may order:
- A hepatitis C virus test. This is a blood test that looks for antibodies against the hepatitis C virus. It shows whether you have been exposed to the virus.
- A blood test that looks for the genetic material of the hepatitis C virus. This test shows whether you are infected with the virus now.
- A blood test to find out the kind of hepatitis C virus you have. Knowing your genotype will help you and your doctor decide if and how you should be treated.
Hepatitis C And Injecting Drugs
If you inject drugs, avoid sharing needles, syringes or other equipment such as tourniquets, spoons, swabs or water.
Where possible, always use sterile needles and syringes. These are available free of charge from needle and syringe programs and some pharmacists. To find out where you can obtain free needles, syringes and other injecting equipment, contact DirectLine
Try to wash your hands before and after injecting. If you cant do this, use hand sanitiser or alcohol swabs from a needle and syringe program service.
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How Common Is Hepatitis C In The United States
In the United States, hepatitis C is the most common chronic viral infection found in blood and spread through contact with blood.14
Researchers estimate that about 2.7 million to 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.13 Many people who have hepatitis C dont have symptoms and dont know they have this infection.
Since 2006, the number of new hepatitis C infections has been rising, especially among people younger than age 30 who inject heroin or misuse prescription opioids and inject them.15,16
New screening efforts and more effective hepatitis C treatments are helping doctors identify and cure more people with the disease. With more screening and treatment, hepatitis C may become less common in the future. Researchers estimate that hepatitis C could be a rare disease in the United States by 2036.17
How Can Hepatitis C Be Spread
You can get hepatitis C through direct blood to blood contact with an infected person.
You can get hepatitis C if you:
- Ever, even once, share a needle , straws , pipes, spoons, cookers and other drug-related equipment
- Received a blood transfusion or blood product before 1992. After this date, sensitive blood screening tests were introduced
- Have lived in an area where Hepatitis C virus is more common and have been exposed through invasive medical or cosmetic procedures
- Receive a tattoo, body piercing, electrolysis, acupuncture, or medical procedures with non-sterile needles or equipment
- Engage in unprotected sexual contact and if the sexual activity involves blood to blood contact
- Are born to a mother infected with hepatitis C
- Have a needle-stick injury with exposure to infected blood
Hepatitis C is not spread by casual contact such as hugging, kissing or shaking hands. It is also not spread by sneezing or coughing. The virus is not found in food or water.
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Chronic Hepatitis C: What Are The Signs And Symptoms
Even when an acute infection becomes chronic, it can be years before a person receives a diagnosis, thus delaying treatment. In fact, the majority of people with chronic hepatitis C are asymptomatic until the liver becomes severely damaged, often decades after exposure, says Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease physician and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who is based in Pittsburgh.
Its common for people to unknowingly carry HCV until they go through a blood screening or other examination for reasons unrelated to hepatitis C.
However, chronic hepatitis C is a serious issue that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver cancer, liver failure, and death.
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What Are The Treatments For Hepatitis C
Treatment for hepatitis C is with antiviral medicines. They can cure the disease in most cases.
If you have acute hepatitis C, your health care provider may wait to see if your infection becomes chronic before starting treatment.
If your hepatitis C causes cirrhosis, you should see a doctor who specializes in liver diseases. Treatments for health problems related to cirrhosis include medicines, surgery, and other medical procedures. If your hepatitis C leads to liver failure or liver cancer, you may need a liver transplant.
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Can Hepatitis C Infection Be Spread By Sexual Contact
Yes, but the risk of getting HCV from sexual contact is believed to be low. The risk increases for those who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted infection, engage in “rough sex” or other activities that might cause bleeding, or are infected with HIV. More research is needed to understand how and when HCV can be spread by sexual contact.
How Do Doctors Treat Hepatitis C
Doctors treat hepatitis C with antiviral medicines that attack the virus and can cure the disease in most cases.
Several newer medicines, called direct-acting antiviral medicines, have been approved to treat hepatitis C since 2013. Studies show that these medicines can cure chronic hepatitis C in most people with this disease. These medicines can also cure acute hepatitis C. In some cases, doctors recommend waiting to see if an acute infection becomes chronic before starting treatment.
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of these newer, direct-acting antiviral medicines to treat hepatitis C:
You may need to take medicines for 8 to 24 weeks to cure hepatitis C. Your doctor will prescribe medicines and recommend a length of treatment based on
- which hepatitis C genotype you have
- how much liver damage you have
- whether you have been treated for hepatitis C in the past
Your doctor may order blood tests during and after your treatment. Blood tests can show whether the treatment is working. Hepatitis C medicines cure the infection in most people who complete treatment.
Hepatitis C medicines may cause side effects. Talk with your doctor about the side effects of treatment. Check with your doctor before taking any other prescription or over-the-counter medicines.
For safety reasons, talk with your doctor before using dietary supplements, such as vitamins, or any complementary or alternative medicines or medical practices.
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Who Should Be Vaccinated For Hepatitis B
All newborns should be vaccinated. Also, people who are under 18 who were not vaccinated at birth should also get the vaccine. Other groups who should be sure to be vaccinated are those in certain high-risk categories, such as:
- People who have more than one sexual partner.
- Men who have sex with men.
- Adults with diabetes.
- Sexual partners of infected people and people who share households with infected individuals.
- People who are exposed to blood and other bodily fluids, including healthcare and public safety professionals, and people who work in jails and other places taking care of people who cant take care of themselves.
When Should You Call Your Doctor
or other emergency services immediately if you have hepatitis C and you:
- Feel extremely confused or are having hallucinations.
- Are bleeding from the rectum or are vomiting blood.
- You think you may have been infected with hepatitis C.
- You have risk factors for hepatitis C, such as IV drug use.
- You have symptoms of hepatitis C and you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C.
- A home test for hepatitis C virus shows that you have hepatitis C. More testing is needed to find out if you have an active infection.
In most areas, public health units are able to diagnose and provide assessment and treatment of hepatitis C.
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Treatments For Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be treated with medicines that stop the virus multiplying inside the body. These usually need to be taken for several weeks.
Until recently, most people would have taken 2 main medicines called pegylated interferon and ribavirin .
Tablet-only treatments are now available.
These new hepatitis C medicines have been found to make treatment more effective, are easier to tolerate, and have shorter treatment courses.
They include sofosbuvir and daclatasvir.
Using the latest medications, more than 90% of people with hepatitis C may be cured.
But it’s important to be aware that you will not be immune to the infection and should take steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected again.
How Hepatitis C Is Spread
Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus which means you have to come into contact with blood from someone else with the disease to contract it. It only takes a very small amount of blood for the virus to transfer, for example, on a razor or a toothbrush. Other ways include:
- through open cuts, wounds or scratches
- via blood transfusion before September 1991 or via NHS blood products before 1986 in England
- sexual transmission if you pass on blood during sex
- from infected mothers to babies
- dental treatment, injections, or tattoos if done with unsterilised equipment mainly abroad
- injecting drugs
- sharing any drug injecting equipment such as needles and tourniquets
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Who Is More Likely To Get Hepatitis C
People more likely to get hepatitis C are those who
- have injected drugs
- had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
- have hemophilia and received clotting factor before 1987
- have been on kidney dialysis
- have been in contact with blood or infected needles at work
- have had tattoos or body piercings
- have worked or lived in a prison
- were born to a mother with hepatitis C
- are infected with HIV
- have had more than one sex partner in the last 6 months or have a history of sexually transmitted disease
- are men who have or had sex with men
In the United States, injecting drugs is the most common way that people get hepatitis C.13
How Do You Treat Hepatitis C
People with acute infection do not always need treatment, because their immune system may clear hepatitis C on its own. If you test positive during the acute stage, your doctor may ask you to come back after a few months to re-test and to see if you need any treatment.
If people develop chronic infection, they will need treatment to help clear the virus. Where available, treatment with drugs called direct-acting antivirals can cure hepatitis in most cases. These are usually taken for 8-12 weeks. Your doctor will also check your liver for any damage.
If youve had hepatitis C in the past, youre not immune to future infections which means you can get it again. You can also still get other types of hepatitis, and having hepatitis C together with another type is more serious.
If youve already had hepatitis C, its advisable to have the vaccination against hepatitis A and B to protect your liver from further damage.
Whether you have symptoms or not, dont have sex until your healthcare professional says you can.
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You May Not Be Able To Keep Drinking
For some people, its a good idea to avoid alcohol after youve been cured of chronic hepatitis C, mainly because adult beverages might tax your damaged liver and cause additional liver damage.
The decision would depend on how much scarring or damage you have in the liver, says Menon. Your doctor would tell you when drinking is not advisable.
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Other Things To Know:
- After a successful course of treatment for hepatitis C, the hepatitis C antibody remains detectable, but the hepatitis C RNA will be undetectable.
- If you plan to donate blood, you will be tested for the hepatitis C antibody and will be turned away even if you do not have an active infection.
- Any patient with a positive test result for the hepatitis C antibody should have additional tests to determine whether or not the virus is still active.
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Effective Treatments Are Available For Hepatitis C
New medication to treat for HCV have been approved in recent years. These treatments are much better than the previously available treatment because they have few side effects and do not need to be injected. There are several direct-acting antiviral HCV treatments that cure more than 95% of people who take them in 8 to 12 weeks. HCV treatment dramatically reduces deaths among people with HCV infection, and people who are cured of HCV are much less likely to develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Take Action! CDCs National Prevention Information Network Service Locator helps consumers locate hepatitis B and hepatitis C prevention, care, and treatment services.
Testing Treating And Reducing Risk Of Hepatitis
If you think youre at risk for hepatitis infection, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested. A blood test is usually done to see if you have been exposed to the virus. Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should get tested for hepatitis.
Get treated for hepatitis infection
There are treatments for hepatitis. Treating long-lasting hepatitis B or C infection can reduce the amount of the virus in a person, which may lower the risk of liver cancer.
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What Does It Mean When Different Types Of Blood Tests For Hepatitis C Give Different Results
The first test your provider probably will perform is called an antibody test. A positive result means that you were exposed to the hepatitis C virus at some point in your life.
If the result is positive, your provider will perform a second test called hepatitis C virus RNA to see if the virus is still in your body. If the RNA test result is positive, then you have chronic hepatitis C infection.
So what does it mean if you have a positive result for the first test but a negative result for the second?
Can Babies Get Hepatitis C From Their Mothers
Yes, however, hepatitis C is not commonly passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. About 4 to 7% of infants born to mothers with hepatitis C become infected with the virus. Women, who have larger amounts of the hepatitis C virus in their blood and are also infected with HIV, have a higher risk of transmitting the infection to their baby at birth.
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Who Is At Risk For Hepatitis C
You are more likely to get hepatitis C if you:
- Have injected drugs
If you have chronic hepatitis C, you probably will not have symptoms until it causes complications. This can happen decades after you were infected. For this reason, hepatitis C screening is important, even if you have no symptoms.
Explanation Of Test Results:
If this test result is positive, it means your body was exposed to the hepatitis C virus and made antibodies . However, it does not tell you whether you are still infected with hepatitis C. If the antibody test result is positive, you should be tested for hepatitis C RNA , which determines whether you are chronically infected. The lab will perform this RNA test automatically if your hepatitis C antibody test is positive.
If the antibody test result is negative, it means you have not been infected with the hepatitis C virus, and further testing for hepatitis C usually is not needed.
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Clinical Need For Hepatitis C Virus Vaccine
The treatment of CHC has changed drastically within the last decade with the advent of DAAs, leading to a significant reduction in the use of ribavirin and an almost complete discontinuation of interferon. The vast majority of patients are treated with the newest DAA regimens, which are well tolerated and allow patients to achieve sustained virologic response in excess of 98% . Although management of CHC has become easier than ever before, there are still several considerations that highlight the utility of HCV prevention. For instance, increased usage of DAA therapy can lead to the development of viral resistance to current regimens, especially as resistance to treatment regimens has been documented during clinical trials . Furthermore, liver disease can progress in a subset of patients, and some patients are still at risk for hepatocellular carcinoma even with cure of CHC . In addition, the specter of reinfection continues to follow those patients who are still deemed at high-risk for HCV infections, such as PWID, as treatment with DAAs has not been shown to give lasting immunity to HCV . Access to treatment is another barrier to curative therapy several reports attest to the inability of patients to get treatment covered by public or private insurances in the US .