Hepatitis C infection is often silent until it damages your liver. Fortunately, treatment is available. If you're at risk — and millions are — get a screening test.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If your age, occupation or lifestyle puts you at risk of exposure to the hepatitis C virus, it's a good idea to get screened for hepatitis C infection.

Many people infected with hepatitis C have no signs or symptoms for years — even decades. During that time, the infection usually causes gradual damage to your liver. If you develop symptoms after years of silent infection, you may already have advanced liver disease.

But if you find out you have hepatitis C, you can take medication to stop or slow the replication of the virus in your system. Several drugs, including two approved quite recently, are available for use in different combinations to treat hepatitis C infection. These medications work chiefly by slowing the replication of the hepatitis C virus in your system.

The first step is to get a blood test to screen for hepatitis C. Screening is recommended for anyone who:

  • Has ever injected street drugs or shared instruments for snorting street drugs
  • Received a blood transfusion, blood product or organ transplant before 1992
  • Has hemophilia and received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
  • Has HIV or hepatitis B infection
  • Is a prison inmate
  • Receives or ever received hemodialysis for kidney disease
  • Has been exposed to hepatitis C positive blood via an accidental needle stick or similar event
  • Has abnormal liver function tests that can't be explained
  • Has a history of high-risk sexual behavior, such as multiple partners or sexually transmitted infections
  • Was born to a mother who has hepatitis C
  • Has a sexual partner infected with hepatitis C
  • Was born between 1945 and 1965

Despite expanding treatment options, medication isn't appropriate for everyone with hepatitis C. It's best to see a hepatitis C expert — generally, a doctor specializing in liver diseases — for a complete work-up and management plan. The condition of your liver, the type of hepatitis C virus in your system and other medical factors help determine when to start antiviral therapy and which drugs to use.

Mar. 22, 2014