Get tested and treated

If you’ve checked to see if you have any risk factors or symptoms of hep C, or you’d like to get tested, contact your doctor who will help test you and discuss the treatment options (if needed).

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Getting tested and treated for hep C

The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to get tested. This involves two simple blood tests.

The first will show if you have hep C antibodies. If this test is positive, it means that you’ve been exposed to the hep C virus sometime in your life, either within the past few months or many years ago.

To confirm if you have a current infection, a second test checks for the hepatitis C virus in your blood. It’s very important to have this second test.

If these blood tests confirm a current infection, your doctor will send you for another blood test or a simple and painless liver scan (also called a FibroScan®) which will give information about the health of your liver. Then, you and your doctor can discuss the results and treatment options.

Getting diagnosed early will enable you to be treated before you develop severe liver damage and other health problems that may be caused by the virus. Successful treatment will also keep it spreading to someone else by blood contact.

Today’s hep C treatment options

Early treatments for hepatitis C involved the use of a medicine called interferon which was given by injection.

Treatments have advanced considerably and there are now oral treatments which offer the chance of curing the virus for the majority of people living with hep C.

You are considered cured when no hep C virus is found in a blood test taken 3 months after treatment has finished.

As with all treatments, there may be side effects. Your doctor will advise what’s best for you.

The majority of people with chronic (long-lasting) hep C should benefit from antiviral treatment. Not only can getting rid of the virus prevent you from developing severe liver disease, but it can also improve your quality of life. If you have been infected with hep C for more than 20 years, then you may have a 1 in 5 chance of developing cirrhosis of the liver. This risk is increased in people who are overweight or with lifestyle risk factors such as heavy alcohol or cannabis use.

Even if you have cirrhosis, you may still benefit from treatment and feel better. However, even if you are cured, you may still have a small risk of developing liver cancer over your lifetime. You may be offered regular liver scans at your local hospital so that your doctor can monitor your liver health, look for early signs of liver cancer, talk to you about how to keep your liver healthy (including reducing any alcohol and cannabis use) as well as ways to prevent getting re-infected with the hep C virus.

If you believe that you may have hepatitis C, talk to your doctor and ask to get tested.

Don’t wait. Testing saves lives.

 

 

Hep C risk factors and symptoms

Hepatitis C Checklist

Are you at risk of hep C? About 25,000 people in New Zealand are living with hepatitis C but are not yet diagnosed.

Hep C risk factors

The hep C virus is spread when infected blood (even microscopic amounts) enters your blood stream. The virus can live outside the body for several days to weeks. Because there are a number of ways people can get hep C, this checklist covers many of the risk factors.

You may be at high risk of hepatitis C if you can say ‘Yes’ to any of the following:

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    Needles puncture your skin when you’re getting a tattoo or piercing which can cause bleeding. If even small amounts of infected blood remain on the tattoo needle or in the ink, the virus could be transferred to you during the tattooing process if needles and equipment are re-used or not sterilised properly.
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    Blood was not tested for hep C before 1992 so you may be at risk if you had a blood transfusion before this time.
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    Sharing or reusing needles and syringes increases the chance of spreading hep C. Syringes with detachable needles increase this risk even more because they can retain more blood after they are used than syringes with fixed-needles.
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    Jaundice can appear soon after you're infected with the hep C virus. Your skin and the whites of your eyes may look yellowish. This happens when your liver doesn't work well enough to break down a chemical called bilirubin. Your skin can turn yellow if too much of it builds up in your blood.
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    Hep C is a virus spread by blood-to-blood contact. An injury or illness that requires medical or dental treatment (e.g. injection, IV drip, transfusion) could result in hep C infection if the blood supply is not properly screened and/or the equipment is not disinfected or sanitized.
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    The overall rate of mother to child transmission of hep C virus infection is 4-10%.
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    If you've shared needles, syringes, drug equipment or tattooing or piercing equipment while in prison you could be at risk of hep C.

Less common risks include:

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    Sexual transmission of hep C is possible. A person's risk for hep C appears to increase if they have a sexually transmitted disease or HIV, sex with multiple partners, or rough sex.
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    You can get hep C if your blood comes into contact with blood from someone infected with the hep C virus. Only small amounts of blood are needed to spread the virus.
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    A person's risk for hep C appears to increase if they have HIV.

75% of people with hep C were born during 1945-1965.


Hep C symptoms

The symptoms associated with hepatitis C infection may be different for everyone. Many people with hep C do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. Some people will notice symptoms just two weeks after becoming infected, while others will experience them six months later. In some cases, people can live with hep C for 20 to 30 years before they experience any symptoms at all.

If symptoms occur, they may include:

Symptoms of chronic (long-lasting) infection may include:

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    It's common for people living with hep C to feel extremely tired or have no energy.
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    Loss of appetite can have many causes. If you have a risk factor and frequent loss of appetite talk to your doctor.
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    Abdominal pain can have many causes. If you have a risk factor and abdominal pain talk to your doctor.
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    Nausea can have many causes. If you have a risk factor and frequent nausea talk to your doctor.
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    Joint pain can have many causes. If you have a risk factor and frequent joint pain talk to your doctor.
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    Did you know...

    Jaundice can appear soon after you're infected with the hep C virus. Your skin and the whites of your eyes may look yellowish. This happens when your liver doesn't work well enough to break down a chemical called bilirubin. Your skin can turn yellow if too much of it builds up in your blood.

Talking to your doctor about hepatitis C

Here are some questions that may help you organise your thoughts when you visit:

  • What tests do I need?
  • What could the results mean?
  • Where do I have to go to be tested?
  • Do I need to get tested for hep A and hep B?
  • Are there any foods or activities that I should avoid?

Even if you don’t have any of the risk factors, but think you could have one or more of the symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting tested because it’s the only way to know for sure.

You might find it helpful to download or print this checklist and take it with you to talk to your doctor about your results.

This checklist is not meant to diagnose people with hep C, nor does it replace the advice of your doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you have any questions about hep C.

Download this checklist

 

 

 

 

Testing saves lives

If you can’t find what you are looking for the best person to talk to is your doctor.

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