Hepatitis C: Should I be Tested?

By Jennifer Kiser, PharmD, Associate Professor
CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy ~

One in 30 baby boomers is infected with the Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is a virus that damages the liver. It is transmitted through contact with infected blood. There is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C virus. Most people (about half in the United States) infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not know they have it. This is because many people can live with this disease for decades with no symptoms. Also, many health care providers don’t remember to test patients for Hepatitis C virus and many patients don’t request to be tested.

Hepatitis C virus can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. The first test is an antibody test. If this test is negative, it most likely indicates you are not infected and no additional test is needed. However, if it is positive, this likely indicates that at some point, you were infected with the Hepatitis C virus. A second blood test, which measures the amount of virus replicating in the blood, is needed to determine if the infection is active. If there is measurable virus in the blood, then you should have a conversation with your health care provider about treatment. Hepatitis C virus is curable.

For decades, the treatment of Hepatitis C was worse than the disease itself. People with Hepatitis C had to take interferon injections and a medication by mouth twice daily for a year. This treatment made people feel miserable and there was only a 50/50 chance of being cured. Fortunately, new treatments are highly effective and have very few side effects. Most people with Hepatitis C now take either 1 or 3 pills by mouth each day for 8 or 12 weeks and have a 95% chance of being cured. When you are treated and cured of Hepatitis C, the chances of developing scarring of the liver (called cirrhosis), liver cancer, and dying prematurely are drastically reduced. Also, many patients report just feeling better in general. In most cases, there is no additional follow-up testing or screening after being cured of Hepatitis C, but people who have cirrhosis before receiving Hepatitis C treatment should still be screened for liver cancer twice a year after being cured. Being treated and cured of Hepatitis C does not make you immune to the virus and it is possible to become infected with Hepatitis C again if you come into contact with infected blood.

Anyone born between 1945-1965 should be tested for Hepatitis C virus, so ask your health care provider about testing. Other people are tested based on having certain risk factors. There are efforts underway to add Hepatitis C testing to the routine tests performed in pregnant women. One of the fastest growing groups of people contracting Hepatitis C in the United States is young people who inject drugs. This is happening all across the country due to the heroin epidemic. Encourage children and grandchildren with a history of injection drug use to be tested for Hepatitis C.
For more information about Hepatitis C, visit the Centers for Disease Control website, https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/index.htm.

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