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Why You Need to Know About Hep C
You might have Hepatitis C and never know it. You could carry it for years and never know it. Hep C is curable, but it could lead to liver cancer if it’s untreated and that’s why you should be tested for it.
“About 40% of people carrying Hep C don’t know they have it,” says Geraldine Joseph, PA, Physician Assistant at Ryan Health. “Hep C has no symptoms, but left untreated it can lead to serious health problems.”
Hep C is a different disease than Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. And you don’t get these diseases in progression — Hep A to Hep B to Hep C. They are each different, and each contracted differently.
- Hepatitis A is contracted through feces. That’s why good hygiene is important, and why washing your hands, especially after using the restroom, is a must. Hepatitis A is frequently spread in restaurants and around food preparation.
- Hepatitis B is contracted through blood, semen, and other bodily fluids. It is generally spread through sexual activity.
- Hepatitis C is spread through blood. It is a common illness among intravenous drug users who share needles and other drug paraphernalia, but it can also be spread through un-sanitized tattooing or piercing equipment. You can also get it from unprotected sex, and from sharing toothbrushes or razors with someone infected.
The good news is that there are vaccines for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, and there is a treatment that cures Hepatitis C. Several medications are available depending upon the genotype of Hep C you have. It’s important that you stay in touch with your health care provider when you’re taking them over a few months so they can track your progress. Hep C treatments range from about eight to 12 weeks and is easily tolerated for most patients.
“We have a rapid test for Hep C, and when we’re out in the community with our mobile health van we encourage people to take the test,” says Fay Barrett, MPH, Ryan Health’s Senior Director of Support Services. “We get results in 20 minutes and can make an appointment at a Ryan Health center if someone needs it.”
Ryan Health’s mobile health van is back in the community again, offering HIV and Hep C testing. You can also call us at 212-484-5812 for HIV/HEP/PrEP/PEP services and testing.
“Hep C is easier to contract than HIV. MSM (men who have sex with men) have a higher risk of contracting Hep C via sex,” Joseph says. “Everyone should be tested regularly if they have many partners. But a monogamous straight couple is probably safe, although they should be tested at least once to set a baseline.”
And like with HIV, the only symptom may be fatigue or feeling slightly nauseous — there are no fluid discharges. But you know your body, and if something doesn’t feel right.
“Sometimes there are no symptoms at all, which is why we ask a lot of questions about sexual practices and partners, tattoos, and piercings,” explains Barrett. “Many people don’t know they have Hep C until we ask questions and lead them to a test.”
The Hep C cure rate is 95 percent, but you can be reinfected if you engage in high-risk activities after being cured. Remaining aware and vigilant — and getting tested — are important.