Hepatitis C is the most common form of hepatitis in the United States. According to the CDC estimations, more than a million new cases of hepatitis C emerge every year, with over 1 percent of the entire US population currently living with Hepatitis C.
If your hepatitis C tests are positive, it means that you have, in fact, contracted the virus, and you have an active inflammation of the liver. However, as heinous as it sounds, hepatitis C is one of today's most manageable conditions, thanks to modern medicine. With accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment, a person can be completely cured of the condition as well.
Even though there is effective treatment available, the acute phase of this infection simply resolves on its own without any chronic sequelae in most cases. However, sometimes, the infection turns chronic if it is not treated in the acute phase.
What to do if your Hep C test is Positive?
The only way to confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis C is through a blood test that detects antibodies against the hepatitis C virus, or HCV. This test is often referred to as the anti-HCV antibody test, and it provides an accurate serological assessment in a suspected hepatitis C case.
If the test detects antibodies against HCV in your blood, it is said to be reactive. A reactive hepatitis C test is simply a positive test indicating that the patient does have the virus and (probably) the active inflammation associated with it.
While it may sound dreadful to get a diagnosis of hepatitis C, treating the disease is much simpler and more successful, thanks to the advent of modern antiviral drugs.
If your hepatitis result is reactive, the first thing you will need to do is to talk to your doctor about your newly diagnosed condition. Your doctor may need to run some extra tests as well. This is because while the antibody test evaluates the presence of antibodies against the hepatitis virus, it does not tell if a person is currently infected with the virus or not.
Viral RNA testing is done to determine the quantitative load of the virus in the blood. This test can differentiate between a resolved and an active infection. Next, your doctor may order a viral genotype test as well to determine the exact genotype of the virus. Detecting the genotype of the infecting virus is important because the management plans differ accordingly.
Once the test results come back and your doctor concludes that you have active inflammation, they may start you on a course of antiviral drugs. However, treatment for the acute phase of the disease is not always necessary. In most cases, the infection clears up on its own thanks to their robust immune systems. Therefore, your doctor may ask you to return after a few months to get retested for the virus.
In case you develop any complications during the acute phase of the disease or return after a month with positive serology findings, your doctor will prescribe a course of Direct-Acting Antiviral drugs or DAAs.
Direct Acting Antiviral drugs are taken continuously for 8 to 12 weeks. This three-month course is usually enough to completely cure patients with hepatitis C, and patients rarely develop any complications. Certain lab tests are ordered once the treatment is over to assess the infection's clearance and the extent of liver damage (if any) that the virus may have caused.
Your doctor may also advise you to abstain from sexual activities during the course of your treatment. Certain dietary modifications may also be needed.
Can my family catch hepatitis C from me?
Understanding how hepatitis C is transmitted gives one a better idea of how to protect their family from this infection.
Hepatitis C primarily spreads when a person comes into direct contact with infected blood. Some common ways to contract this virus include:
- Sharing injecting needles
- Getting a tattoo or a piercing from an unlicensed parlor
- Sharing personal hygiene products such as razors
- Having unprotected sex
While the spread of hepatitis C is very common in the US, as well as the rest of the world, the disease is not contagious, which means that you won’t get infected by simply coming into contact with a person who has hepatitis C. Therefore, it is safe to say that household transmission of hepatitis C is not very common.
Is there any vaccination available for hepatitis C?
Unfortunately, there is no vaccination available for hepatitis C. However, the infection is preventable with appropriate safety measures.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself against hepatitis C is to eliminate any high-risk behaviors you might have.
If you are a frequent IV drug user, you might want to seek help as this demographic has one of the world's highest hepatitis C infection rates. At the very least, you can avoid sharing injecting needles with other people to minimize your risk of transmission.
Healthcare workers are also at an increased risk of acquiring hepatitis C. if you are a healthcare provider, ensure that you dispose of any medical waste with extreme care. You can also wear multiple layers of gloves when working with needles to avoid accidental pricks.
While there may not be a hepatitis C vaccine just yet, it is advisable to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B to minimize the risk of serious coinfections.
Can my sexual partners be infected if I have Hepatitis C?
While it is not very common for HCV to be transmitted through sexual activity, it does happen. The risk increases if you have frequent multiple sexual partners or a new partner whose hepatitis C status is unknown.
Conversely, the risk of acquiring hepatitis C from sexual activity decreases if you have a single, long-term sexual partner or use adequate protection during sex.
It is advisable that you get both yourself and your partner tested for hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases regularly. Annual screening tests and condoms are good ideas to virtually eliminate the risk of contracting hepatitis C through sexual intercourse.