Less than 15% of those most at risk are actually getting tested.
Some 80 percent of Americans infected with hepatitis C, a virus that can cause chronic and even life-threatening liver diease, are baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1965). In 2013, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an independent group of doctors and medical experts that makes guideline recommendations, recommended that all boomers get tested for the virus. But one study found that only 13.8 percent of baby boomers have actually gotten that test (as of 2015, the most recent year for which data is available).
“It’s not usually part of routine blood work,” says internist Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, “so you should ask your doctor about whether getting tested is right for you.”
Getting tested for hepatitis C is recommended for all baby boomers; the CDC also recommends testing to those with risk factors for contracting hepatitis C, such as using injected drugs, or for people who show signs of liver disease.
To diagnose hepatitis C, doctors use different kinds of blood tests. A preliminary tests shows whether you have the antibodies to the virus, which are the substances your body naturally produces to fight off infections.
“If you have a positive antibody test,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher, “that means you’ve been exposed to hepatitis C at some point in your life.” (About 15 to 25 percent of people infected with hepatitis C will clear the virus without any long-term damage to their bodies.) At this point, your doc will order further tests to see if the virus is still in your bloodstream.
Blood tests can also tell you what strain of hepatitis C you have, which affects the exact medication you will need to treat it. Other tests your doctor may run include liver scans and biopsies to test if the liver has sustained any damage or scarring.
The symptoms of hepatitis C are not usually obvious, so the only way to know if you have it in many cases is by getting tested. If you’re not sure whether you’ve been tested or not, talk to your doctor.
Dr. Knoepflmacher is a clinical instructor of medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where he also maintains a private practice.
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Now you might assume you've been tested
for hepatitis C during a checkup, but
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it's not usually part
of routine blood work.
00:09.409 --> 00:15.095
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So you should ask your doctor about
whether getting tested is right for you.
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The CDC recommends all baby boomers get
screened for hepatitis C at least once.
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Testing is also recommended for
people with risk factors,
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such as those who use injected drugs or
if someone shows signs of liver disease.
00:32.500 --> 00:36.830
Now there are different kinds of blood
tests doctors use to diagnose hepatitis C.
00:36.830 --> 00:38.510
A preliminary test shows whether or
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not someone has antibodies
to the hepatitis C virus.
00:41.530 --> 00:45.900
Antibodies are substances produced by
your body in response to an infection.
00:45.900 --> 00:50.080
If you have a negative antibody test,
you don't have hepatitis C.
00:50.080 --> 00:52.560
If you have a positive antibody test,
00:52.560 --> 00:56.400
that means you've been exposed to
hepatitis C at some point in your life.
00:56.400 --> 01:00.330
After a positive result,
doctors usually order a second test
01:00.330 --> 01:02.700
to see if the virus is
currently in your blood stream.
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And you should know, that about 15 to
25% of people infected with hepatitis C
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will spontaneously clear the virus without
any long-term damage to their bodies.
01:12.670 --> 01:16.730
Blood tests can also tell you what
strain of hepatitis C you have,
01:16.730 --> 01:19.820
which is important because there
are several different types and
01:19.820 --> 01:22.080
they respond to medication differently.
01:22.080 --> 01:26.585
If you have hepatitis C, your doctor will
also wanna see how healthy your liver
01:26.585 --> 01:29.010
is and check if you have any scarring.
01:29.010 --> 01:31.240
Blood tests, a liver scan, or
01:31.240 --> 01:34.960
a biopsy are a few of the ways that
scarring of the liver can be checked.
01:34.960 --> 01:37.848
Your doctor might also suggest testing for
01:37.848 --> 01:43.153
other viruses that are transmitted
the same way, such as hepatitis B and HIV.
01:43.153 --> 01:46.690
Even though the CDC recommends testing for
all baby boomers,
01:46.690 --> 01:50.512
research shows that the vast
majority aren't getting screened.
01:50.512 --> 01:53.061
If you're not sure whether
you've been tested or
01:53.061 --> 01:56.108
if you should be it's important
to speak with your doctor.
01:56.108 --> 02:01.339
Hepatitis C FAQs for the public. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. (Accessed on October 10, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm.)
Hepatitis C: Why people born from 1945-1965 should get tested. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. (Accessed on October 10, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis/media/pdfs/factsheet-boomers.pdf.)
Most baby boomers not getting recommended test for hepatitis C. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2017. (Accessed on October 10, 2017 at https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/most-baby-boomers-not-getting-recommended-test-for-hepatitis-c.html.)
Screening for chronic hepatitis C virus infection. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2017. (Accessed on October 10, 2017 at http://www.uptodate.com/contents/screening-for-chronic-hepatitis-c-virus-infection.)