Hepatitis C Testing
Hepatitis C, a liver infection caused by a single-stranded RNA virus, is spread through contact with blood and body fluids containing blood. The most common way of acquiring a hepatitis C infection is injection-drug use. Unprotected sex and unregulated tattooing are also sources of infection. Acute or new diagnoses of hepatitis C have quadrupled in the U.S. in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends universal, one-time hepatitis C testing for anyone 18 years of age and older.
Acute & Chronic Hepatitis C Symptoms
Half of individuals experiencing an acute hepatitis C infection are asymptomatic or experience easy-to-ignore symptoms. Symptoms appear 2 to 26 weeks after initial exposure to blood and/or body fluids and may include but are not limited to the following:
- joint pain
- dark urine
- clay-colored stool
Half of all acute hepatitis C infections clear up on their own; however, a subclinical or asymptomatic hepatitis C infection still damages the body. Asymptomatic individuals or those with mild symptoms need to seek medical treatment. Medication is now available to cure hepatitis C; however, prior infection does not protect against reinfection.
People with asymptomatic, chronic hepatitis C may feel fine for up to 20 years after initial exposure. Up to 25% of chronic hepatitis C infections progress to cancer, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hepatitis C testing and treatment can prevent expensive, long-term medical problems.
Who Needs a Hepatitis C Test?
Any person requesting a Hepatitis C test should receive one, no questions asked.
People Who Should be Tested at Least Once:
- Individuals 18 years and older.
- Individuals living with an HIV infection.
- Recipients of a blood transfusion or organ donation.
- Persons born to a hepatitis C-infected mother.
- Individuals who have shared needles or injected narcotics, even if only once.
- Individuals who have been arrested.
People Who Should be Tested on a Regular Basis:
- All pregnant persons need to be screened during each pregnancy.
- Individuals currently injecting illegal drugs.
- Individuals who received, or continue to receive, maintenance hemodialysis.
- Men who have sex with men who have multiple sex partners; as part of their routine 3-month screening for other sexually transmitted infections including HIV and syphilis.
- All individuals who have been incarcerated.
Screening & Confirmation Testing Services
Hepatitis C screening and confirmation testing require 2 mL of spun blood, serum, or plasma collected no more than 5 days prior to arrival at the Kansas Health and Environmental Labs (KHEL). It is preferred that the serum arrives at KHEL cold and in a poured-off tube. Testing can be done with serum arriving in a spun serum separator tube. Send as much serum or plasma as reasonably possible. Follow the collection and shipping instructions on the back of the Universal Form.
When the Hepatitis C screening result is reactive, the specimen undergoes a hepatitis C confirmation test. Confirmation testing requires at least 1.2 mL serum or plasma. The hepatitis C specimen has a limit of three freeze-thaw cycles before the sample must be rejected. If the specimen will reach KHEL cold and within 5 days after collection, do not freeze the hepatitis C specimen. If there is not enough specimen for the confirmation test, this test will not be performed. Questions? Call KHEL at 785-296-1620 during business hours.