Hepatitis C should be taken seriously. This viral disease infects the liver, causing inflammation and swelling. It can be a short-term illness but only for some. About 70 to 85% of the infected people have to deal with a lifelong, chronic infection.
What’s worse is that most people don’t even know they’re infected. Symptoms can be mild or barely noticeable. Needless to say, getting tested is important. Here’s what you need to know about hepatitis C testing.1
What Is Hepatitis C?
The “C” points to a specific virus. It’s blood-borne, but other hepatitis viruses spread through body fluids, stool, or contaminated food or water. With hepatitis C, the infection develops after contact with infected blood.2 But, remember that you can’t contract hepatitis C through coughing, sneezing, or everyday contact.
Infection can be acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis lasts for about 6 months and then your body fights it off. Unfortunately, most people are left with a chronic infection. In fact, hepatitis C is the most common chronic viral blood infection. About 2.7 to 3.9 million Americans have it! Roughly 75% are baby boomers – anyone born in between 1945 and 1965.
Risk Factors Of Hepatitis C
Not a baby boomer? There are other reasons you might want to get tested.
- Drug use with injections
- Contact with infected blood or needles
- Tattoos or body piercings
- Having sex with men
- Having sex with more than 1 person in the last 6 months
- HIV infection
- History of STDs
- Hepatitis-c-positive mother
- Blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
- Received clotting factor for hemophilia before 1987
- Kidney dialysis
- Working or living in a prison
Injecting drugs is the most common way Americans get hepatitis C. However, any or all of these risk factors warrant a test.3
How Soon Should You Get Tested
Think you’ve been infected? It’s tempting to rush to the doctor, but know that it might take a while for the disease to show up. This is known as the “window period.”
1. Within 1 to 2 Weeks
Virus particles called HCV RNA (hepatitis C virus ribonucleic acid) can be detected. During this time, liver function tests will also increase. It also works the other way around. If you have an abnormal test, a hepatitis test might follow.
2. Within 3 to 12 Weeks
The body also responds to the virus by making antibodies. These can take 3 to 12 weeks to appear! You can be infected and not have enough detectable antibodies, so keep this in mind. If you test negative but think you’ve been exposed, get tested again in a few weeks.4
Types Of Hepatitis C Tests
1. Antibody Test
When your immune system finds a “bad guy” – in this case, a virus – it goes into defense mode. Proteins called antibodies are released into the blood. To detect these antibodies, a blood test is needed.5
- A negative result (non-reactive): You don’t have hepatitis C. However, if you were possibly exposed within the last 6 months, you might need another test.
- A positive result(reactive): You have hepatitis C antibodies. However, this doesn’t mean you definitely have hepatitis C since antibodies can linger after hepatitis clears. More tests are definitely needed.6
2. Qualitative Test
To specifically detect HCV RNA, a qualitative test is needed, which can find very low levels of the virus. “Detected” means HCV RNA is in the bloodstream, and “not detected” means it is not.7
3. Quantitative Testing
Quantitative testing measures the specific amount of virus in the blood. It’s also known as viral load, and the result will be an exact number. This type of a test is used before and during treatment. However, the viral load doesn’t say anything about the liver. Scarring may or may not be bad, but a liver biopsy is needed.8
How To Prevent Hepatitis C
Here are a few tips you can follow to lower the risk of hepatitis C:
- Get tattoos and piercings in licensed shops. Check the artist’s credentials.
- Never share needles or syringes.
- Never share razors, toothbrushes, or even nail clippers. Blood can spread on these items.
- If you’re sexually active, always use protection.
- Wear gloves if you work around blood, needles, and syringes.
Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants. But thanks to technology, new treatments can get rid of the virus. It all depends on early detection, so be cautious about your health.
|↑1||Hepatitis C. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||What Is Viral Hepatitis? National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑3||Hepatitis C. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑4||Getting Tested for Hepatitis C: Entire Lesson. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.|
|↑5||Antibodies. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑6||Hepatitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑7||Hepatitis C RNA qualitative testing. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.|
|↑8||Hepatitis C RNA quantitative testing. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.|