Should You Be Tested for Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a viral infection that is spread through infected blood. The most common types are hepatitis A, B and C. Although hepatitis A is usually a short-term illness, hepatitis B and C often lead to chronic infection. Approximately 75-85% of people infected with hepatitis C develop a chronic infection. Left untreated, this can result in liver damage, liver cancer, cirrhosis and even liver failure.
It is estimated that 3 ½ to 5 million people have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus. But since the majority of people who are infected have no symptoms in early stages, more than half of people who have chronic hepatitis C don’t even know they have it. The best way to know whether or not you have it is to get a simple blood test.
There is a high incidence of hepatitis C in people born between 1945 and 1965 so screening is recommended in this age group even if you have no known risk factors. Since hepatitis C is spread by infected blood, screening is also recommended if you had a blood transfusion prior to 1990 (when blood started to be tested for hepatitis C), have been on hemodialysis, share needles for drug use or were incarcerated. Health care and emergency medical workers who have ever been pricked with a needle should also be screened.
Symptoms of hepatitis aren’t usually noticeable until advanced stages of liver disease occur. Even when people exhibit symptoms, they can often be attributed to a number of other health conditions. That’s why it’s important to get tested to know for sure if you have it.
Symptoms may include:
- Fluid retention
- Yellow discoloration of eyes
- Bleeding problems
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal pain
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are treatments for the infection. Your doctor may recommend medication to treat chronic hepatitis and can talk to you about what you can do to protect your liver from further damage. The first step in treating the disease is to know you have it. That’s why screening is so important.
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Date Last Reviewed: March 18, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD