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New Guidelines for Hep C Screening

The USPSTF recommends hepatitis C screening for everyone between the ages of 18 and 79.

New Guidelines for Hep C Screening

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends hepatitis C screening for everyone between the ages of 18 to 79 years.

Hepatitis C, or hep C, is a viral infection that causes inflammation in the liver. Up to 80 percent of people who are infected with HCV will develop what is called a chronic infection, an infection that will not resolve without treatment. Most people who have chronic hep C infections do not have any noticeable symptoms, and a person can have hep C without knowing it. A chronic infection can cause serious complications, including cirrhosis—scarring and hardening of the liver that disrupts normal liver functioning. Liver cancer and liver failure are other potential complications.

What is the USPSTF?
In the organization’s own words, “the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine.” You can read more about the USPSTF on their website.

Why did the recommendation change?
A look at the statistics surrounding hep C makes a compelling case. Hep C infections are common, with an estimated 2.4 million people in America currently living with a chronic infection. Hep C is associated with more deaths in a given year than the other top 60 reportable infectious diseases combined. The number of new hep C infections has more than tripled over the past decade.

How do I get screened for hep C?
Hep C is screened with a blood test, and can be arranged by your healthcare provider. Testing is a two-part process. The first part is an antibody test that looks for the presence of hep C antibodies. If that test is positive, a second test will check for RNA proteins, which will confirm whether the infection is active.

What happens if I have chronic hep C?
Treatments for hepatitis C are very effective. The standard for treatment is a regimen of drugs called direct-acting antivirals, which disrupt the virus’s ability to replicate. A typical course of DAAs lasts three months (though it may be longer or shorter depending on the patient, the hep C genotype, and other factors).

Follow-up testing is recommended at several points—at the start of treatment, four weeks after starting treatment, three months after completing treatment, and sometimes, six months after completing treatment. If there is no hep C virus detected in the blood three months after completing treatment, a person is considered cured. This treatment approach cures roughly 90 percent of hep C infections in people who have not previously been treated for hep C.

To have the best chance of being cured, a person must adhere to treatment as strictly as possible—skipping doses, stopping treatment early, and taking doses inconsistently can make treatment less effective, and can even lead to the virus becoming resistant to treatment.

Medically reviewed in September 2019.

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