Hepatitis C is a virus that causes liver inflammation. It’s the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants. Hepatitis C can either be a mild, acute condition that lasts only a few weeks or months, or it can be a serious, chronic illness that is long-term. Approximately 75-85% of people with hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection, which can cause severe, potentially fatal liver damage, liver failure, or liver cancer if left untreated.1
The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to get tested. In the United States alone, millions of people have the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Many people with hepatitis C show no symptoms, but early detection can potentially save your life.
Hepatitis C is a liver infection that is symptomless 80% of the time. When it does present symptoms, they can mimic the flu. About 3.2 million people in the US have Hepatitis C and 3 out of 4 who are infected don’t even know they have it.
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Hepatitis C testing involves a blood test that detects HCV antibodies. After infection, your body develops antibodies, which try to fight off the virus. It’s quick, simple blood draw from your arm to collect a small sample.
You can get testing for HCV at one of our nearby testing centers. After ordering your test online, you can visit the lab, no appointment needed, and most results are available within 1-2 business days.
When a person is exposed to HCV, it takes the body time to recognize the virus’ presence and develop antibodies. Our hepatitis C test is highly sensitive and can detect antibodies as soon as 8-9 weeks of the initial infection.
If a test is taken too soon before the window period has passed, an early negative result is possible. Having a follow-up test 3 months post-exposure can confirm there is no active hepatitis C infection.
Hepatitis C is usually spread when contaminated blood enters the bloodstream of someone who isn’t infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends hepatitis C testing for people at high risk, including people who:2
Possible results from a hepatitis C antibody test include:
Learning that you have hepatitis C can be devastating, but if you test positive with us, we’re here to help. Additional hepatitis C RNA testing can be performed to confirm the virus is active. If HCV RNA is detected, it means you currently have HCV; if HCV is not detected, you don’t have HCV.
We also offer a doctor consultation by phone call, so you can get information about the virus and what it means for your health, as well as guidance about what your options are. Our doctors may recommend you meet with a healthcare provider. Depending on the case, you may or may not need to start drug treatment.
With proper rest, nutrition, and hydration, about 15-25% of people can clear acute hepatitis C on their own without treatment. This may happen during the first several weeks after HCV infection. However, the majority of people progress to chronic infection and may need treatment from a healthcare provider.
People with chronic hepatitis C require regular monitoring by doctors for signs of liver damage and disease. 10-20% of people with HCV develop cirrhosis over a period of 20-30 years.3 Blood tests can check for signs of liver malfunction, imaging tests can show if the liver is hardening, and a liver biopsy can identify the severity of the damage.
Yes, hepatitis C is curable. With the newest forms of antiviral treatment, hepatitis C can be cured in over 90% of people. A hepatitis C infection is considered cured when the HCV RNA viral load is undetectable in a blood test for 24 weeks after treatment has been completed. This is called a sustained virologic response, or SVR.4
Chronic hepatitis C treatment usually involves antiviral medicine. The goal is to reduce the amount of virus in your system, slow or stop the damage to your liver, and reduce your chances of developing cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.
There are several FDA-approved medications,5 most of them involving 8–12 weeks of oral pills called DAAs (direct-acting antivirals). Medications depend on the amount of liver scarring you have and the genotype of the virus. Medicine may be prescribed in combination for increased effectiveness.
In advanced chronic hepatitis C, the liver may have cirrhosis and require a liver transplant, surgically replacing a damaged liver with a different one. Your healthcare provider may refer you to a transplant center, which can evaluate your eligibility, place you on a waiting list for a new liver, and perform the procedure.
A liver transplant doesn’t eliminate the virus from the body. However, there are many options for treatment and cure after a liver transplant. Antivirals and other new treatments may cure hepatitis C, so you should talk with a healthcare provider about which treatment option is best for you.
Yes. If you’ve been sick with hepatitis C before, it’s still possible to be re-infected. This is especially true for current injection drug users.6 You can also get other types of viral hepatitis, as well as hepatitis caused by alcohol, drugs, or other toxins.
Unfortunately, unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and B prevents these separate infectious diseases, which can cause liver damage and complicate chronic hepatitis C.
The only way to prevent hepatitis C is to avoid contact with infected blood:
If you are at risk for hepatitis C or think you’ve been exposed, getting tested can rule out the condition or help you get treatment if necessary. Hepatitis C can be scary, but getting tested is quick and relatively painless, like any other blood test. Hepatitis C detection is important to preventing serious health problems during your lifetime.
Medically Reviewed by J. Frank Martin JR., MD on February 3, 2020Written by Taysha on January 18, 2020