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5 Reasons to Get Tested for Hepatitis C

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:

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Understanding Hepatitis C -- the Basics

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by an infection with the hepatitis C virus. The liver becomes inflamed and swollen and stops working as it should. Hepatitis C is a serious disease because the liver is needed to remove toxins that build up in the blood. Hepatitis C can destroy the liver and cause cirrhosis and death. It is the main cause of liver transplants in the world. After being infected with the hepatitis C virus, 75%-85% of people will develop a chronic, long-term, infection. Once...

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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 HIV-positive
  • 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.

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