Hepatitis C testing important for veterans


(BPT) - When you go to the doctor for a physical, you'll probably have a variety of tests done to check for health concerns like blood pressure and cholesterol. One important test you should consider requesting is for hepatitis C. Why? A simple blood test now could save your life and potentially the lives of others.

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C (hep C) is the most common chronic blood-borne infection in the United States with an estimated 3.5 million people living with the disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Hep C affects the liver and is caused by the hep C virus. Left untreated, a hep C infection can attack and kill cells in the liver.

Hep C is typically spread when a person is exposed to an infected person's blood. This could be from something as simple as sharing a razor or toothbrush. Keep in mind, hep C is not spread through food or water, or by sitting on toilet seats.

Data suggest that veterans are at a higher risk for hep C exposure. In fact, one out of every 20 veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration has hep C — more than three times the infection rate of the general U.S. population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The American Legion, the nation's largest wartime veterans service organization, has joined forces with AbbVie, a global biopharmaceutical company, to increase awareness of hep C and provide free antibody testing for veterans and their communities. Visit legion.org/hepC to learn about the disease and get information about free testing.

Hep C symptoms and tests

Some common symptoms of hep C include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain, joint pain, dark urine and gray-colored stools. However, the majority of people with hep C do not have any symptoms and unless they are tested, do not know they are carrying the virus. This is why it's important to request the test proactively.

The VA has treated more patients for hep C than any major health care system in the U.S. Approximately 357 veterans are started on treatment every week. Getting tested for hep C is important for all veterans, but there are other people who are at a higher risk for exposure that should also be tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends hep C testing for:

* Everyone born from 1945 to 1965
* Anyone who received clotting factor concentrates made before 1987
* Recipients of blood transfusions or solid organ transplants prior to July 1992
* Long-term hemodialysis patients
* People with known exposures to the hep C virus, such as health care workers or public safety workers, after needle sticks involving blood from someone infected with the hep C virus
* Current or former injection drug users, including those who injected only once many years ago
* People with HIV infection
* Children born to mothers with hep C

Hep C can be treated

After getting tested, if you learn you are positive for hep C you have treatment options. Hep C is a curable disease, meaning for some people the hep C virus is not detectable in the blood three months after treatment ends. Talk with your doctor about the best treatments for you and steps you can take to prevent the spread of the virus.

Being diagnosed with hep C is life-changing, but it's also empowering. With this important information you can now take control of your future and choose the right treatment so you can live a long, full life.