Should You Be Tested for Hepatitis C?

Seven Reasons You Need a Blood Test

Have you ever used injection drugs?

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Nearly 70% of people who contract hepatitis C do not have acute infection. The disease may be diagnosed years later from routine lab tests. As chronic hepatitis C infection can have many consequences, such as cirrhosis (hardening of the liver) and liver cancer, it is important for patients to be diagnosed early so they can receive appropriate treatment and monitoring for their disease. Some people have a higher chance of being exposed to the hepatitis C virus than others. Here are seven risk factors for hepatitis C infection.

Injection drug use is the most common way that hepatitis C spreads in the United States. If you are using, or if you've ever used injection drugs (even just one time many years ago), then you should be tested for hepatitis C.

Are you HIV positive?

Image of the human immunodeficiency virus. Photo: Geostock / Getty Images

If you are infected with HIV you need to be tested for hepatitis C. This is because hepatitis C infection is more serious in people infected with HIV and it's also a common co-infection. Between 50% to 90% of HIV-infected drug users also have hepatitis C.

Do you have liver disease or abnormal liver tests?

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Liver disease and abnormal liver tests are caused by something and it could be the hepatitis C virus. You should also consider that you may be infected with hepatitis C in addition to another problem. Get tested to find out.

This will usually require testing your blood, but unlike the picture above, the person drawing your blood needs to be wearing gloves!

Have you had a needlestick injury?

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A needlestick injury is when you accidentally stick yourself with a used needle. This used to be a relatively common accident with healthcare workers but modern needles and disposal techniques make this less common. However, it still does happen. Any needlestick injury or any exposure to blood through a sharp object injury needs to be followed up with a hepatitis C blood test.

Are you on dialysis?

A patient is treated on a dialysis machine. Photo: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images News

Dialysis, also known as kidney dialysis or hemodialysis, is a medical procedure where a machine acts like a kidney and filters and cleans the blood. People who are on long-term dialysis (about 350,000 in the U.S.) have a significant chance of being hepatitis C positive (up to 15%). This is probably because dialysis units have many opportunities for cross infection and contamination if not properly used, cleaned and maintained. While dialysis is considered safe and is an important treatment for many people, if you're on long-term dialysis, you should get tested for hepatitis C.

Have you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant?

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If this was before July 1992, then you need to be tested for hepatitis C. Before this date, the hepatitis C virus wasn't yet isolated and no test existed to detect it. This means that blood and organs could have been infected with the hepatitis C virus even though they were tested for other viruses like HIV and hepatitis B.

Have you ever been treated for a blood clotting problem?

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If so, find out if you were treated before 1987. Back then, blood clotting problems such as hemophilia were treated with blood or products made from blood that could have the hepatitis C virus. After 1987, these products were heat treated which prevented the spread of the hepatitis viruses.

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