Understanding hepatitis C testing
- The only way to confirm if a person has hepatitis C is for them to get tested.
- Early diagnosis is important to prevent liver damage and disease and to reduce transmission in the community.
- There are many reasons someone may request a hepatitis C test or have one recommended to them.
The only way to confirm if a person has hepatitis C is for them to get tested.
Hepatitis C can be present in the body for 20 to 30 years without any symptoms, which makes it more difficult to get tested and diagnosed early. When left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can cause inflammation and scarring of the liver. This can lead to cirrhosis or cancer. Early diagnosis can connect someone with treatment, which cures over 95% of people with hepatitis C.
Why early diagnosis is important
Early diagnosis is important to prevent liver damage and disease. When a person is diagnosed with hepatitis C, they can access treatment, care and other supports to improve their health and prevent transmission to their contacts who may be at risk of being exposed.
Early diagnosis also has a positive effect on prevention efforts. A person who is cured of hepatitis C can no longer pass the virus to others. However, they can become reinfected if they are exposed to the virus again. Treatment can prevent transmission between individuals but it also reduces transmission at the community level. Treatment of individuals living with hepatitis C lowers the amount of virus circulating in the community, which reduces the chance of someone coming into contact with the virus. This contributes to reduced transmission in the community overall.
Reasons for someone to get a hepatitis C test
Hepatitis C is passed blood to blood. There are many reasons someone may request a hepatitis C test or have one recommended to them. These include:
- possibly being exposed to the hepatitis C virus through contact with someone else's blood, either recently or in the past
- participating in an activity that can pass hepatitis C from one person to another, even if it was just one time
- having lived in a country where hepatitis C is common
- having had a blood transfusion or organ transplant in Canada before 1992
- experiencing symptoms consistent with either early (or acute) infection or, more commonly, advanced liver disease
- finding out during a routine checkup that levels of liver enzymes ALT and AST are outside of the normal range (high liver enzyme levels can indicate current liver damage, which may be caused by hepatitis infection)
Resources for service providers
Resources for clients
- 6 things to know about Hep C – CATIE brochure
- Hep C can be cured – CATIE brochure
- You can have hepatitis C and not know it – CATIE postcard