An estimated 2.4 million people are living with hepatitis C in the United States. However, many don’t know they are infected because chronic hepatitis C does not have symptoms for 20 years or more. By that time, serious damage can occur to your liver and can lead to death. The good news is that life-saving treatments can cure hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks to prevent further liver damage, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Getting tested for hepatitis C is the first step.
“We want to educate the community that lives can be saved just by getting tested for hepatitis C. This virus is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants.”SACRAMENTO COUNTY HEALTH OFFICER DR. OLIVIA KASIRYE.
The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections. Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver that can affect its function. Although hepatitis is caused by a virus and exposure to the blood of an infected person most often, toxins, some medications, certain medical conditions and heavy alcohol use can also cause hepatitis. The most common types of viral hepatitis in the U.S. are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Although all types of viral hepatitis can cause similar symptoms, they are spread in different ways, have different treatments, and some types of hepatitis are more serious than others.
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. When someone is first infected with the hepatitis C virus, they can have a very mild illness with few symptoms or could require hospitalization. Less than half of people who get hepatitis C are able to get rid of the virus without treatment. Those who get infected will likely develop a chronic lifelong infection, which left untreated can cause serious health problems including liver disease, liver failure, liver cancer and death.
CDC recommends you get tested for hepatitis C if you:
- Are 18 years old and older
- Are pregnant (get tested during each pregnancy)
- Currently inject drugs (get tested regularly)
- Have ever injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
- Have HIV
- Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Are on hemodialysis
- Received donated blood or organs before July 1992
- Received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
- Have been exposed to blood from a person who has hepatitis C
- Were born to a mother with hepatitis C
The hepatitis C test is a blood test that looks for HCV antibodies to find out if someone has ever been infected with the hepatitis C virus. Test results can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to come back. Rapid anti-HCV tests are available in some health clinics and the results of these tests are available in 20 to 30 minutes. If you are positive for the HCV antibodies, a follow-up test called NAT/PCR test will be done.
Learn more about hepatitis C and talk to your doctor about getting tested for hepatitis C – it could save your life. You can also contact the Sacramento County Sexual Health Clinic for testing, call 916-875-1551 or go to www.SacSexualHealth.org for more information.