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 liver cancer or liver failure you don't treat it. In fact, hepatitis C is the top reason for liver transplants in the U.S.
If you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C, here are five reasons to get tested promptly:
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1. You can have hepatitis C 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 the liver quietly for decades. It can take up to 30 years before symptoms develop. By then, your liver may be in serious trouble. That's why you need to get tested before there's any sign of trouble.
Testing is more important if:
You have ever injected drugs into your body.
You had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992.
You are HIV-positive.
You are on hemodialysis.
You have been exposed to blood on the job.
2. The hepatitis C test is quick and easy.
A simple blood test can tell if you've ever been infected with hepatitis C. The results usually come back in a few days, but some clinics have rapid tests that can be read in as little as 20 minutes. If the test comes back negative, you should still get tested again if there's a chance you were exposed to the virus in the last 6 months.
If the first test comes back positive, you were infected with hepatitis C at some point. A second test will check whether the original infection cleared up or became chronic (as it does in most people). If you have a chronic infection, you'll need to see a doctor who specializes in treating hepatitis.
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 the virus can be spread through unprotected sex.