Why You Should Get Screened for Hepatitis C
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2021

Why You Should Get Screened for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver infection that can lead to liver damage and death. It’s caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus spreads through an infected person’s blood or body fluids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults get tested once in their lifetime. Here’s why:

Hepatitis C is serious. Once infected, the negative impact of the disease is inescapable. Of 100 people with hepatitis C, 75 – 85 will develop chronic liver disease, up to 20 will get cirrhosis, and 1 – 5 will die from liver cancer or liver failure. In fact, it is the top reason for liver transplants in the US.

You can have hepatitis C and not know it. About 3.9 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis; but it causes few early symptoms, so most of them don't know. While the most prominent risk factors relate to drug use and risky sexual behaviors, hepatitis C can affect anyone. Once inside, it can lurk in your liver for years.

The test is quick and easy. A simple blood draw allows a lab to check for anti-HCV antibodies. These are proteins your body makes when it finds hepatitis C virus in your blood. The antibodies usually show up about 12 weeks after infection. The results take a few days to a week in most places.

Early treatments work. Depending on the stage of your disease, treatments can prevent liver cancer and liver failure. Treatment can wipe out the virus entirely. Knowing you’re positive for hepatitis C may also help you prevent passing the virus to those you love. Instead, you can encourage them to get testing and early treatment.

Ask your doctor if you have ever been tested for hepatitis C. (Pregnant patients are often tested as a matter of course, because the virus can pass to unborn babies.) If not, consider getting tested. It could be the difference between a shortened and sickened life and a long and healthy one. 

Shellie Burdick, DO, is a primary care physician at SVMC Pownal Campus in Pownal, VT.

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