What is Hepatitis C?
By: Kelsey Weigman, BCAP Prevention Coordinator
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a viral infection that is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. An estimated 3.2 million people are living with HCV in the United States, however an estimated half of people living with HCV do not know they have it.
HCV affects the liver, which functions in the body to filter and detoxify our blood. HCV causes inflammation in the liver, which negatively impacts its ability to detoxify. Prolonged inflammation can lead to cancer of the liver.
HCV can be either acute or chronic. Approximately 25% of HCV cases are acute, meaning a person is able to clear the virus without needing treatment. This means that approximately 75% of people who acquire HCV will have a chronic case, lasting longer than 6 months. Chronic HCV requires treatment, but it is fully curable in most cases!
People may be exposed to HCV through the following:
Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to prepare or inject drugs (this includes sharing other works supplies such as cookers, cottons, etc.)
Needlestick injuries in health care settings
Being born to a mother who has HCV
Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
Having sexual contact with a person living with HCV
Getting a tattoo or body piercing in an unregulated setting
Incarceration or other communal living situations
Anyone born between 1945-1965
Recently the CDC updated their HCV testing guidelines to recommend every adult over 18 get tested at least once in their lifetime and all pregnant women get tested during each pregnancy.
70-80% of people living with HCV don't experience symptoms. The best way to know if you've been exposed and are living with HCV is to get tested. Some common symptoms people have reported experiencing are:
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Light, clay-colored stool
Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
Loss of appetite
Malaise (fatigue or extreme tiredness)
Testing for HCV is simple! At BCAP, testing for HCV is done through the OraSure® OraQuick rapid antibody test. The rapid antibody test requires a small sample of blood collected through a finger prick and produces results in 20 minutes. The test is greater than 98% accurate.
The window period is a time frame where a person could have been exposed to HCV but the antibody response in the body is not strong enough to be detected by the technology. For HCV, the window period is 6 months. Therefore, a person would receive HCV test results as of 6 months ago, and prior.
If a person has ever had HCV and cleared the virus, or were previously treated for it, they would not be a candidate for rapid HCV testing, as the antibody response remains present even after someone is cured.
HCV is a curable virus, meaning that with medication it is possible to eliminate the virus from the body! The treatment has improved drastically in the last several years and HCV is now most often treated with one pill per day for 8-12 weeks.
Regular blood work will monitor the level of virus in the body to ensure treatment is working. Once the treatment regimen is completed a person is cured of HCV. Re-exposure is possible, so education to reduce the risk of HCV, as well as HCV blood testing, are still recommended. HCV treatment is covered by most insurance plans and fully covered by Medicaid! BCAP can provide resources and treatment navigation to make accessing HCV treatment as easy as possible.
If you are interested in more information or beginning HCV treatment please reach out to Kelsey Weigman, Prevention Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.