Why You May Need to Be Screened for Hepatitis C

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According to the CDC, more people than ever died from the Hepatitis C virus in 2014. Acute Hepatitis C cases doubled from 2011 to 2014. Despite the availability of screenings and treatment medications, the death toll reached almost 12,000. Viral hepatitis is caused by viruses that inflame the liver. Viral Hepatitis is acquired as an infection from an external source and can take many forms such as Hepatitis A, B, C, D or E. Only Hepatitis B and C cause long-standing liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Other causes of liver inflammation are fatty liver disease and alcohol abuse.

Hepatitis C is mainly spread through the blood (i.e. blood transfusions and sharing needles). The CDC recommends that people born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for the virus. A few decades ago, there was no screening process for blood transfusions, and sterilization of surgical tools was not as it is today. Also, drug use was prevalent in the baby boomer age group. Therefore, it is important that you get tested if you were born during this time.

The screening is a simple blood test that checks for the Hepatitis C antibody and shows if someone has been exposed to it. This test can be requested from your general practitioner, and some labs even allow walk-ins for this screening. Following the initial screening test, you will require one other blood test to determine if you have active infection.

Most people with Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms, and complications might not even occur until 20-30 years after a person is infected. It is estimated that 75% of people who have Hepatitis C, have not yet been diagnosed. This is why if you or a loved one is part of the baby boomer generation, you should get tested.

Nowadays, treatment options achieve very high cure rates (more than 90%) and are easily tolerated by patients. People who have previously been on the old treatments, which had a high level of side effects, and who were not cured, should consider speaking with their hepatologist about new treatment options.

For more information, visit www.ochsner.org/services/hepatitis-c-clinic or www.cdc.gov/hepatitis

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