Hepatitis C is one of the three most common strains of hepatitis: A, B and C. Hepatitis C is the most common chronic viral infection found in blood and spread through contact with blood. As many as 4 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis C. Since 2006, the number of new hepatitis C infections has been rising, especially among people under the age of 30 who inject heroin or misuse prescription opioids. Though not as common, hepatitis C can be spread through sexual contact, especially if you already have an STD, have multiple sex partners, engage in rough sex or are infected with HIV.
“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver, and all three of the strains can lead to serious liver issues. Hepatitis C can range in severity from a mild illness that lasts a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Acute hepatitis C is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months of exposure to the virus. For most people, acute infection can lead to chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is a long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. The infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis, liver scarring and liver cancer. For about 75% to 85% of people who have hepatitis C, it will develop into chronic hepatitis C. Unlike hepatitis B, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Then only way to prevent the spread of hepatitis C is having safe sex and not sharing needles or personal items like razors or toothbrushes. (While hepatitis C is not spread through saliva or other casual contact, toothbrushes and razors can cause the virus to spread if they have come into contact with infected blood.)
How is Hepatitis C Prevented?
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, unlike hepatitis A and B, which both have vaccines. Thus, the best way to prevent hepatitis C transmission is being aware of those behaviors in which the virus can be passed from one person to another.
Hepatitis C is commonly transmitted through sexual activity, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. However, contracting hepatitis C through sexual activity is less common than contracting other STDs through sexual activity, though engaging in certain behaviors (such as having multiple partners, engaging in rough sex or being infected/having sex with someone who is infected with another STD) could put you at more substantial risk of contracting the virus through sexual contact.
Hepatitis C is most frequently passed through blood-to-blood exposure. While hepatitis C was, in the past, associated with instances in which the virus was transmitted through blood transfusions and organ transplants, new precautionary measures have been put into place in the last 30 years to prevent this from happening.
Other risky instances of blood-to-blood exposure can include sharing needles for intravenous drug use, tattoos or piercings, in addition to contact with open wounds or sores. Professional tattoo or piercing parlors are required to take sanitary precautions in order to eliminate the risk of hepatitis C transmission. It’s important to make sure the vendor you visit abides by these sanitary regulations. Obviously, the risk of transmission is higher when getting amateur tattoos or piercings.
Hepatitis C can also be spread through sharing razors or toothbrushes, so it’s important to also avoid these behaviors.
While hepatitis C can exist outside of the human body for up to three weeks at room temperature, it is not easily spread throughout a household. It cannot be spread through sharing food, hugging, kissing, coughing, sneezing, or holding hands.
If you believe you may have been exposed to hepatitis C and have developed symptoms, getting tested can help your doctor provide next-steps for your health.
Why Should I Order a Hepatitis C Test?
If you have had sex with a partner who has hepatitis C or have had rough sex, especially if you already have HIV or another STD, you should get tested for hepatitis C. If you have had more than one sex partner in the last six months, have a history of STDs, have been in contact with blood or needles at work, have tattoos or body piercings, or have worked or lived in a prison, you should also get tested. The CDC also recommends you get tested for hepatitis C if you have ever injected drugs, were born to a mother infected with hepatitis C, have been on long-term kidney dialysis, have symptoms of liver disease, were born between 1945 and 1965 or had a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before July 1992.
Because hepatitis C is so often asymptomatic, testing may be the only way to find out whether or not you have the virus. Early diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C is essential to prevent liver damage.
What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
As many as 80% of people who contract hepatitis C will show no symptoms. If an infected person does show symptoms, they are most likely to present within two to eight weeks of the infection, but tend to present six to seven weeks after exposure on average. Again, in most instances, those infected with the virus will never show symptoms.
Symptoms of hepatitis C can range from mild to severe and include:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Jaundice or yellowing skin or eyes
- Dark-colored urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Itchy skin
- Swelling in the legs or abdomen
- Weight loss
- Confusion, drowsiness or slurred speech
- Spider angiomas (web-like veins under your skin)
While the above symptoms might seem mild, hepatitis C can develop into some very serious complications. Complications from hepatitis C include scarring (cirrhosis) and cancer of the liver. These complications are the result of an infection that has developed from being an acute infection into a chronic infection. However, not every acute infection will become chronic. It’s also important to note that these complications can develop even if the person infected with hepatitis C is not exhibiting any symptoms.
Knowing your hepatitis C status will make it easier for your doctor to provide the proper treatment. The only way to be certain that you have contracted hepatitis C or that you are experiencing hepatitis C symptoms is by getting tested.
How Long Should I Wait Before Getting Tested?
Hepatitis C has an incubation period that can range from two weeks to six months. It is recommended that you wait until the incubation phase has completed before getting tested in order to ensure the most accurate results. If you suspect you have been exposed to hepatitis C and start exhibiting symptoms before the end of the incubation period, you should get tested.
What Are the Benefits of a Hepatitis C Test?
The only way to know whether you have hepatitis C or not is to get tested. Early detection and treatment is essential to prevent hepatitis C from developing into serious liver health issues.
As soon as you decide to get hepatitis C testing, you can set up a testing appointment through Priority STD Testing online or over the phone. When ordering online, select the local testing center most convenient to you and the STD you’d like to test for to set up an appointment. If you call Priority STD Testing, our care counselors can set up the appointment for you, as well as answer any questions you may have. Once your appointment has been set up, all you have to do is show up at the testing center and give the required sample. The entire process takes less than 15 minutes. Your test results are processed within 24 to 72 hours. You can retrieve your results at any time after your hepatitis C testing by calling Priority STD Testing. In order to protect your privacy, we will not send results to you without you contacting us first.
At Priority STD Testing, we strive to make regular STD testing affordable, especially for individuals without insurance. We do not accept any form of private or federal health insurance, with the exception of allowing the use of health savings account (HSA) cards for payment. We do this so that your test results are not communicated to your insurance company and are not included as part of your medical record.
Peace of Mind
Hepatitis C can be deadly if it’s not detected early. Ordering hepatitis C testing is the only way to set your mind at ease and know if you either do not have hepatitis C or if you do and can begin treatment. Be proactive about your health, as well as the health of your partners, by getting tested.
How Do I Order a Hepatitis C Test?
Hepatitis C testing through Priority STD Testing can be ordered online or over the phone. Our care counselors are available over the phone to set up an appointment for you at a local testing center and answer your questions about hepatitis C or the testing process.Get Tested Now