You want to live a long and healthy life. You don’t want to be responsible for passing on a potentially deadly disease to someone else, whether they’re a loved one or a stranger. It’s important to you that the world be a healthier place. These things we can assume to be true.
However, given the statistics, we can also assume that you don’t know if you have a sexually transmitted STD, or another of the long-term communication diseases that often fly under the radar. Hepatitis C is just such a disease, transmissible during sexual activity or by sharing blood – accidentally or otherwise. Because this infectious agent has such serious long-term consequences, it’s critical that you know more about it … and the best ways to test for its presence.
Today, let’s discuss exactly what hepatitis C (hep C) is, what causes it, how you can decrease your risk factors and where testing plays in.
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a relatively recently discovered disease. Unlike diseases such as syphilis, which have been around for centuries, researchers only identified it in 1989. From there, they developed a screening test and a treatment (though not a reliable cure) to help patients afflicted with the disease. Unfortunately, that screening test was not yet foolproof.
Luckily, that changed in 1992, when “A more sensitive screening test is developed and used to screen blood donations for hepatitis C, effectively eliminating hepatitis C transmission through the blood supply in Canada. It is estimated that 90,000 to 160,000 Canadians contracted hepatitis C through infected blood or blood products between 1960 and 1992.” (1)
The downside is that everyone who got a blood transfusion or organ transplant up until 1992 had a much greater chance of being infected from contaminated blood.
What contaminates the blood in hep C patients? It’s a virus known as the hepatitis C virus that, once in the bloodstream, causes the disease known as hepatitis C. This virus is a bloodborne pathogen, meaning it can only be transmitted through blood to blood contact. This means that, unlike a number of other sexually transmitted diseases, it is less likely to pass through sexual activity and more likely to pass through other forms of contact.
Who Is at Risk for Hep C?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most at-risk groups for hep C include (2):
- Current or former injection drug users
- People with HIV infection, which makes transmission of the drug through lower immune system function more likely
- People who share razors or toothbrushes
- People who have unprotected sex, especially with STDs such as herpes, which can cause open sores
- Babies born to mothers infected with the hepatitis C virus
- Healthcare workers who suffer a needlestick accident, in which they prick themselves with an infected syringe
- People who go to unregulated tattoo parlors
People who contract the virus first suffer acute hepatitis C, with symptoms such as fever, fatigue, dark urine, clay-colored stool, nausea and abdominal pain, loss of appetite, joint pain, vomiting and jaundice. If you see any of these signs, it’s time to get tested immediately. Unfortunately, these symptoms tend to pass within a few weeks, leading many people to dismiss them. Moreover, adds the CDC, only 20-30 percent of people who get infected even manifest such symptoms. (3)
From there, the disease goes into a long latent period, usually of decades. Eventually they develop chronic hepatitis C, which can lead to loss of liver function and eventually death, if left untreated. Sadly, the disease is transmitted more frequently than we would like.
How Common Is Hep C?
Cases number in the thousands, according to the most recently available CDC statistics: “In 2016, a total of 2,967 cases of acute hepatitis C were reported to CDC from 42 states,” the government organization says. “The overall incidence rate for 2016 was 1.0 cases per 100,000 population, an increase from 2015 (0.8 cases per 100,000 population). Actual acute cases are estimated to be 13.9 times the number of reported cases in any year. After adjusting for under-ascertainment and under-reporting, an estimated 41,200 acute hepatitis C cases occurred in 2016.” (4)
There are treatments, and many people can live long and healthy lives with hepatitis C, so long as they practice good management. They should also practice safer sex, such as using condoms and regular testing, to make sure they don’t pass it on to others. Or, better yet, that they remain uninfected entirely.
How Can You Test for Hepatitis C?
There are a few ways to test for hep C effectively, including:
- Visiting a doctor’s office: People with a primary care physician and insurance may wish to schedule a visit to their doctor to get checked out. Getting tested with your own doctor makes diagnosis and treatment plans easier. However, it also costs more, requires that you go through insurance and can be embarrassing. It’s not always necessary.
- Head to a clinic: There are a number of community clinics that will test for STD infections at no cost or a reduced rate. Planned Parenthood is a popular nonprofit, and even for-profit clinics often have pro bono days if you know when to look for them. Even these come with the cost of time, effort and potential embarrassment. Therefore, the best way to test for hepatitis C in many cases is to …
- Test at home: At-home test kits are growing in popularity and reliability. These simple to use test kits require nothing more than that you order them online, collect a sample at home and put your sample in the mail for testing at a lab. You can do this as often as necessary, with total privacy, without the shame or embarrassment that comes with visiting a doctor.
How can you get started with a Hepatitis C at home test kit and establish a routine that can help you catch hepatitis C and avoid sexual health problems altogether? By getting in touch with iDNA today. Our team is happy to answer any questions or help you place an order. If you prefer, you can simply order your kit online today, choosing from comprehensive options or targeting very specific diseases (especially useful if you have had sex with someone who has reported an STD to you).
Ready to take control of your sexual health? Start today and order your iDNA Home STD Test Kit today!
- (1) A Brief History of Hepatitis C: 1989 – 2018. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.catie.ca/en/practical-guides/hepc-in-depth/brief-history-hepc
- (2) Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for Health Professionals. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm#section1
- (3) Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for Health Professionals. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm#section1
- (4) Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for Health Professionals. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm#section1