If you were born between 1945 and 1965, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it is time to get tested for Hepatitis C. Baby boomers are five times more likely to carry the virus than any other adults, and since we recently observed World Hepatitis Day, this season is the perfect time for a refresher on what Hepatitis C is all about.
Let’s find out more about the infection, what happens during testing and why early diagnosis is important.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C (often referred to as Hep C) is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and can lead to inflammation, liver failure and liver cancer. There are more than 200,000 cases per year in the United States, and it is estimated three out of four people living with the virus do not know about it. Many people show no symptoms, but those that do often show signs of fever, dark urine, abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and yellowing of the eyes and skin. Even when symptoms are mild, Hepatitis C left untreated may lead to liver disease and cirrhosis.
What causes Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is spread by blood-to-blood contact. The most common cause of the infection in the U.S. is unsafe medical procedures and blood transfusions. It is recommended that anyone who received a blood transfusion prior to July 1992 get tested for Hepatitis C. Getting a tattoo can also increase the risk of infection, especially if the tattoo has been unregulated. Outside of the U.S., intravenous drug use is the most common cause. The infection can also be transmitted to a child during birth, but that has become less common since pregnant mothers are now tested for the virus.
How is Hepatitis C diagnosed?
A blood test is the most common screening for Hepatitis C, and typically two tests are performed. The first test, called a Hepatitis C antibody test, determines whether you have ever been infected with the virus. It can also detect if you ever carried the antibody that is released into the bloodstream to fight the infection. If antibodies are detected, it does not mean you have Hepatitis C. Another test will be performed, called a Hepatitis C RNA test, which detects a current Hepatitis C virus infection. This type of test can determine if you have been infected two or three weeks after exposure.
Why is early detection important?
If caught early, your doctor can prescribe a once-a-day antiviral medication that can cure the disease. Medication can typically remove all traces of the infection from your blood with treatment lasting typically between 8 and 24 weeks. This is usually up to 90 percent effective with limited side effects. In more serious cases, shots may still be needed. A doctor can also recommend lifestyle changes, such as giving up alcohol to help keep your liver healthy. However, long-term effects of the disease may not be reversible.
ACCESS offers screening for Hepatitis C right here in the Chicagoland area. If you are a baby boomer, show any symptoms or think you may have the infection, schedule an appointment today for a referral for a screening.