Hepatitis C is typically communicated through being exposed to the blood of an infected person. This can happen through sharing drug-injection equipment (needles, syringes), sexual intercourse with an infected person, blood transfusions, unsterile piercings and body tattoos, and birth.
Similar to HIV, the means by which patients acquire the disease can lead to feelings of shame. In addition to shame, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to decreased levels of HCV testing and treatment as individuals have been staying inside their homes. However, neglecting to test or treat your condition, does not make it go away.
Healthcare professionals continue to urge those exposed to Hepatitis C to pursue treatment. Due to medical advancements, Hepatitis C is now a curable disease with proactive treatment. Follow these steps to start your care journey.
If you suspect you have been exposed to Hepatitis C, get tested. Symptoms include jaundice, nausea, fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. A doctor will test your blood for HCV antibodies.
If they are detected, then that means you have been exposed to Hepatitis C. However, the presence of the antibodies does not necessarily mean that the patient currently has Hepatitis C.
Similar to other infections, the presence of HCV simply means that, at some point, you were exposed to Hepatitis C. Consequently, after a patient receives a positive antibody test, the doctor will also run a nucleic acid test which detects RNA. If this test also comes back positive, then that means that the patient currently has Hep-C and is able to transmit it to other people.
Finding a doctor
A visit with your primary healthcare provider will lead into the right direction of finding a specialist.
Since Hepatitis-C mostly affects the liver, you will likely be referred to a gastroenterologist or a hepatologist. These specialists are more well-equipped to deal with infections of the liver.
If treatment has been delayed or the case becomes more severe, a patient might need a new liver. In this case, a doctor will talk about your eligibility and likely put you on a list to receive a liver transplant.
Being informed about treatment
Your healthcare journey belongs to you. Although friends, families, and healthcare professionals may give their suggestions and advice; it is important to maintain your agency.
The best way to do so is being informed. Be prepared to ask questions and talk with your specialist. A few questions to consider:
- What does a typical treatment look like?
- How will my treatment plan be specialized for me? What factors do you consider?
- Will anyone else be part of my care team? How will you work with my primary healthcare professional?
- Do you have recommendations on support groups I can attend?
The most important questions are the ones that you want to ask. What do you want to know from your potential specialist? What is most important to you in treatment? Figure out what you want from an initial appointment and tailor questions around it.
Once you get a treatment plan, leverage your social network and platforms to do some investigation.
If you were prescribed a specific medication, ask others in support groups or pages about their experience with the medication.
Note that their experience might not match yours, but their comments can provide a baseline. Nevertheless, be vigilant about being informed on your treatment and your care team.