What is Hep C?
Hepatitis C (Hep C) has been in the news a lot recently, but because it is not well understood, many remain unaware of their risk. Hep C is caused by a virus that is transmitted through blood. Hep C can lead to liver disease, liver cancer and liver failure.
Learn more about what Hep C does to the liver
Baby-Boomers and Hep C: Why are we at risk?
The majority of people with Hep C in the U.S. are Baby-Boomers: born between 1945 and 1965. Baby-Boomers may have been exposed to Hep C through:
- blood transfusion before 1992
- sharing injection drug use equipment (even once long ago)
- military experience
- other blood exposures such as using shared tattoo equipment or razors.
It's important to note that many people with Hep C do not know how or when they got Hep C.
I feel fine How can I be at risk for Hep C if I have no symptoms?
The majority of people with Hep C do not have signs or symptoms until late stages of disease. Common early signs and symptoms such as dark urine, fatigue and flu-like symptoms are easy to overlook. When the classic signs and symptoms of liver disease emerge, it can mean that liver disease has progressed.
It’s best to catch Hep C early.
The only way to know if you have Hep C is to get tested. Hep C testing is a two step process.
1. First, you need the Hep C antibody test. This test detects whether you have ever been exposed to Hep C. If the Hep C antibody test is positive, it means that you have had Hep C at some time in your life.
2. Up to 25% of people clear Hep C on their own during the first six months of infection, so if you test antibody positive, you need to get the Hep C RNA (sometimes called PCR) test to find out if you have Hep C infection now. If this test is positive, it means you have Hep C.
Is the Hep C test covered by health insurance?
Because of the high rates of Hep C amongst Bab-Boomers, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) have recommended a one time Hep C screening for all Baby-Boomers. As a result of this official recommendation, the Hep C screening is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most commercial health insurance plans. To learn more see the CDC Preventative Services Coverage Table and contact your health insurance plan.
Hep C can be treated and cured!
Knowing your Hep C status is important. If you know you have Hep C, you can get into care with a medical provider that specializes in Hep C care and treatment. And best of all, most people with Hep C can now be treated in less than three months with an all oral medication regimen with few side effects!
Learn more about Hep C Treatment
If you are a Baby-Boomer, born between 1945 and 1965, ask your doctor for the Hep C test at your next visit. Knowing your status gives you the opportunity to be treated and cured, which is an important step to protect your future health.
Nirah is a clinical social worker and public health professional who has been raising awareness about hepatitis C and liver health in NYC since 2007. She organizes the Hep Free NYC network in NYC.