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Medical Care

The Test Every Baby Boomer Should Take

It’s important to know what health tests and screenings you should take. Most of us are aware for the need for timely  mammograms and colonoscopies, but there’s another test that every Baby Boomer should consider taking – the test for hepatitis C. Here, the experts from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tell you what you need to know:

Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C been called a silent disease because people can get infected and not know it. Some people who get infected with Hepatitis C are able to clear, or get rid of the virus, but most people who get infected develop a chronic, or lifelong, infection. Over time, chronic Hepatitis C can cause serious health problems including liver damage, liver failure, and even liver cancer.

How is Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through different ways including:

*Injection drug use. Most people become infected with Hepatitis C by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. It is possible to have gotten Hepatitis C from injecting drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago.

*Blood transfusions and organ transplants. Before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992, Hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

*Outbreaks. While uncommon, poor infection control has resulted in outbreaks in health care facilities and residential care facilities.

*Sexual activity. While rare, spreading Hepatitis C through sex is possible. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or HIV, sex with multiple partners, or rough sex appears to increase a person’s risk for Hepatitis C.

*Inadequately sterilized instruments. Hepatitis C can also be spread when getting tattoos and body piercings in informal settings or with non-sterile instruments. Some people don’t knowhow or when they got infected.

Who should get tested for Hepatitis C?

•Anyone who has injected drugs, even just once or many years ago

•Anyone with certain medical conditions, such as chronic liver disease and HIV or AIDS

•Anyone who has received donated blood or organs before 1992

•Anyone born from 1945 through 1965

•Anyone with abnormal liver tests or liver disease

•Health and safety workers who have been exposed to blood on the job through a needlestick or injury with a sharp object

•Anyone on hemodialysis

•Anyone born to a mother with Hepatitis C

Why is it important to get tested?

Millions of Americans have Hepatitis C, but most don’t know it.

•About 8 in 10 people who get infected with Hepatitis C develop a chronic, or lifelong, infection.

• People with Hepatitis C often have no symptoms. Many people can live with an infection for

decades without feeling sick.

•Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and the leading cause of liver transplants.

•New treatments are available for Hepatitis C that can get rid of the virus.

Getting tested for Hepatitis C

Doctors use a blood test, called a Hepatitis C Antibody Test, to find out if a person has ever been infected with Hepatitis C. The Hepatitis C Antibody Test, sometimes called the Anti-HCV Test, looks for antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus. Antibodies are chemicals released into the bloodstream when someone gets infected.

Hepatitis C Antibody Test

Results

When getting tested for Hepatitis C, ask your doctor when and how you will find out your results. The test results usually take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to come back. A new rapid test is available in some health clinics.

Non-Reactive or Negative Hepatitis C Antibody Test

•A non-reactive or negative antibody test means that a person does not have Hepatitis C.

•However, if a person has been exposed to the Hepatitis C virus in the last 6 months, he or she will need to be tested again.

Reactive or Positive Hepatitis C Antibody Test

•A reactive or positive antibody test means that Hepatitis C antibodies were found in the blood and a person has been infected with the Hepatitis C virus at some point in time.

•Once people have been infected, they will always have antibodies in their blood. This is true even if they have cleared the Hepatitis C virus.

•A reactive antibody test does not necessarily mean that you have Hepatitis C. A person will need a follow-up test.

• If the follow-up test, known as an RNA test, is negative, that means a person does not have Hepatitis C. If the test is positive, that means that the person currently has Hepatitis C and should talk to a doctor experienced in diagnosing and treating the disease.

Reprinted courtesy of the CDC. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.