Getting tested and treated for Hep C
The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to get tested. This involves one or 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.
Everyone 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 hep C.
If you believe that you may have hepatitis C, talk to your doctor and ask to get tested.
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 hepatitis C virus is spread when your blood comes into contact with infected blood. The virus can live outside the body for up to 3 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:
Less common risks include:
Hep C symptoms
The symptoms associated with hepatitis C infection may be different for everyone. 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.
And if symptoms do occur, you may not notice them depending on whether the virus has begun to have an impact on your liver. This is why it is important to talk to your doctor.
Symptoms of chronic (long-lasting) infection may include:
Symptoms of acute (recent) hep C infection are usually rare and may include:
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.