Five reasons to get tested for hepatitis C
Hepatitis C (HCV) is a virus that can cause severe damage to your liver including cirrhosis and liver cancer. Some people who become infected with HCV clear the virus on their own within six months after becoming infected, but 75% – 85% of people end up with long-term, chronic infection. Because this virus can cause serious health problems, it’s important to get the word out about HCV testing and treatment.
Here are the top five reasons to get tested for hepatitis C.
1. Getting tested is the only way to know your status for sure.
Many people do not experience any symptoms from a hepatitis C infection, so they do not know they’re infected.
2. HCV is a very common blood-borne infection in the U.S.
It’s estimated that between 2.7 million and 3.9 million people in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis C. It’s especially common among people who use injection drugs and people living with HIV are at higher risk of having an HCV infection.
3. Testing is easy—and in many cases, free.
Health care providers use a blood test to test for the presence of hepatitis C antibodies (the body’s immune response to HCV). If this test is positive, your health care provider will do a follow-up blood test (an RNA test) which looks for the genetic material of the virus. (You can read more about hepatitis C testing in this flier from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
The Centers for Disease Control has a website where you can search for free HCV testing in your area by entering your zip code. There are many places in San Francisco that offer free HCV testing including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation 6th Street Harm Reduction Center.
4. There’s a cure for hepatitis C.
We now have very effective, less toxic medications that—if taken once-daily for about three months—can cure most cases of hepatitis C. These medications can be very expensive, but there are ways to get it for a reduced cost. Government programs including Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) cover hepatitis C treatment. The American Liver Foundation has information about pharmaceutical patient assistance programs for hepatitis C drugs.
5. There’s support to help people take a medication every day.
Support groups and “adherence clubs” bring people living with hepatitis C—who are on or may start treatment—together to learn from each other, get information about hepatitis C and get social support. San Francisco AIDS Foundation runs a hepatitis C wellness program. Get more information about the hepatitis C support and wellness groups from San Francisco AIDS Foundation here.
Hepatitis C testing and enrollment for the hepatitis C wellness program is available Tuesday – Friday, 11 am – 1 pm at the 6th Street Harm Reduction Center (117 6th Street near Mission St.). Find more information.