As far as viruses go, hepatitis C is among the sneakiest. Once it's in your blood, it travels to your liver, where it may settle in for a silent, long-term stay. This can lead to cancer or cause the organ to fail if you don't treat it. In fact, hepatitis C is the top reason for liver transplants in the U.S.
If you think you’ve been exposed, here are five reasons to get tested right away:
Hepatitis C is a sneaky virus. You may not have any symptoms at all. Most people don’t. Your doctor could check you liver and see only a little damage. You might not get diagnosed until he spots a problem with your liver enzymes after a routine blood test.
1. You can have the disease even if you feel fine.
Most people with hepatitis C don't know they have it. The infection usually becomes chronic, meaning the virus lives in your liver quietly for decades. It can take as long as 30 years for symptoms to show up. By then, this important organ could be in serious trouble. That's why you need to get tested, even if you don’t feel like anything is wrong.
Testing is more important if:
You’ve ever injected drugs into your body
You had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
You're on kidney dialysis
You’ve been exposed to blood or needles on the job
2. The test is quick and easy.
A simple blood test can tell if you've ever had the virus. The results usually come back in a few days, but some clinics have rapid versions that can be read in as little as 20 minutes. If it comes back negative, but there's a chance you were exposed in the last 6 months, get tested again.
If the first results are positive, you had hepatitis C at some point. A second test will check to see if the original case cleared up or became chronic (as it does in most people). If it's chronic, you'll need to see a doctor who specializes in treating the disease.
3. You can protect your family and friends.
You can pass the hepatitis C virus to others through your blood, even if you don't have any symptoms. To prevent this, cover wounds carefully and avoid sharing:
Razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes, or diabetes supplies
Needles for injecting drugs, or steroids
Tools for body piercings or tattoos
Hepatitis C doesn't spread through kissing, coughing, sneezing, or sharing eating utensils. It's rare, but you can get it from unprotected sex.