Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Importance of Hepatitis C Screening

By Sarah E. Laibstain, MD
Carrollton Family Physician

Your liver has many important functions, and keeping it in good health is vital to your body. I believe it is important to shed light on hepatitis, a common liver infection, by raising awareness and encouraging testing. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver and presents in four ways — types A, B, C, and D. About 4 million people in the United States are infected with hepatitis C, which is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). However, because this infection usually shows no symptoms, many who have the illness may go years without knowing they carry the virus.  Therefore, it is critical to screen for hepatitis C and to understand risk factors to avoid in keeping good liver health.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends that those born between the years 1945 and 1965 (the baby boomer generation) visit their physician for an HCV blood test. The first blood test will screen for antibodies that point to the presence of the hepatitis C virus in your blood stream. If this first test is negative, no additional testing is needed. If this test returns positive, then your physician may recommend additional testing to check if the virus itself is still present in your blood.  Additional blood tests can help your physician plan for the best course of treatment.

While vaccines exist to prevent hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine yet for hepatitis C. Because of this, the only way to lower your chance of catching this virus is to eliminate risky behaviors that lead to a hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis C most commonly spreads when blood from an infected person is exposed to someone who is not infected, so avoid sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment. Prior to 1992, the blood supply was not screened as it is today, and hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. This is one of the ways in which baby boomers could have been exposed to HCV.

If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to serious complications such as cirrhosis (liver scarring) or liver cancer. Visit your physician for screening and encourage your friends and loved ones to get screened as well. HCV screening is not only important to your own health but benefits the health of those around you. Because many people live without knowing they carry the virus, they can unknowingly spread the infection to others even when they have no symptoms. Consult your physician for more information on screening for hepatitis and for additional ways to promote good liver health.

Dr. Laibstain is a general family medicine practitioner at Family Medicine Associates of Texas in Carrollton. She thoroughly enjoys improving the health and lives of individuals ranging from young children to adulthood. 

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