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:
1. You can have the disease even if you feel fine.
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. Although it's uncommon, you can get it from unprotected sex.
4. Treatments can suppress or even wipe out the virus.
Hepatitis C is treated with a combination of medications called antivirals. For many people, they get rid of the virus completely. They do have serious side effects and they don’t work for everyone. New drugs recently approved by the FDA are more effective and have fewer side effects. But some are expensive.
5. Early treatment can help you prevent liver cancer or liver failure.
According to the CDC, out of every 100 people with hepatitis C:
- 75-85 will develop chronic liver disease.
- Up to 20 will get cirrhosis, a dangerous scarring of the liver.
- 1-5 will die from liver cancer or liver failure.
Getting tested and treated early can stop the hepatitis C virus from triggering cirrhosis or cancer. Your doctor will be able to keep an eye out for signs of liver trouble. He can start treatment before you serious damage starts.