Liver Hepatitis C Prevention Screening

Hepatitis C is a virus that may present with no symptoms during the acute infection phase. The virus can cause complications, including liver damage, before it’s diagnosed. Hepatitis C infection is associated with a number of risk factors.

Some disagreement exists in the creation of hepatitis C screening guidelines. For example, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2004) found insufficient evidence to recommend screening for hepatitis C in high-risk populations. Other organizations, such as the Hepatitis Foundation International (2003), continue to recommend screening. People who have engaged in certain behaviors may wish to consider screening for hepatitis C to identify and treat a potential infection in its early stages.

Hepatitis Screening Guidelines: Who’s at Risk?

You may wish to consider hepatitis screening tests if you have the following risk factors:

  • Intravenous drug use: Sharing needles can transmit blood contaminated with hepatitis C.
  • Transplant or transfusion before 1992: Before better hepatitis screening guidelines were instituted in 1992, some donated blood and organs were contaminated with hepatitis C.

Other factors can increase risk of developing hepatitis C; however, these methods of transmission — including sexual transmission and transmission via tattoo or body piercing equipment — are far less common. Most hepatitis screening guidelines indicate that hepatitis screening tests are unlikely to be warranted in these cases.

Hepatitis C Screening Tests

Hepatitis screening tests include blood tests, such as:

  • Liver function test: This test determines the level of liver enzymes in the blood; high enzyme levels or abnormal ratios of liver enzymes can indicate problems with liver function. In many cases, this is an initial test for hepatitis C.
  • Enzyme immunoassay test: This blood test looks specifically at antibodies produced in response to the hepatitis C virus. An enzyme immunoassay test can more definitively indicate the presence of hepatitis C, but doesn’t indicate whether the infection is active.

If you’re diagnosed with hepatitis C after a hepatitis screening test, your doctor may choose to explore further diagnostic testing, such as polymerase chain reaction, or begin a course of treatment to rid your body of the hepatitis C virus.

Benefits of Screening for Hepatitis C

If you are in a high-risk group, hepatitis screening tests can identify the virus, even if symptoms don’t appear. Those who do have symptoms may attribute them to a more benign condition, like the flu.

If it’s left undiagnosed and untreated for extended periods, hepatitis C can have severe complications, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. Screening for hepatitis C can prevent the virus from damaging your liver before you know you have the condition.

Resources

Hepatitis Foundation International. (2003). Screening for hepatitis C: A common sense approach. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://www.hepfi.org/living/screening.html.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2006). Chronic hepatitis C: Current disease management. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/chronichepc/.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. (2004). Screening for hepatitis C in adults. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspshepc.htm.