Screening for Hepatitis B & C

NYU Langone doctors provide screening for hepatitis B and hepatitis C, two forms of hepatitis that can become chronic and lead to serious liver damage without treatment.

Hepatitis is characterized by inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. These diseases are contagious and can be spread from person to person through contact with bodily fluids such as blood and semen. Hepatitis B and C can also be passed from mother to child during birth.

Hepatologists, or liver specialists, and infectious disease specialists at NYU Langone recommend screening for some people who may be at increased risk of becoming infected.

Even though hepatitis B and C may cause no symptoms for years or even decades after infection, the viruses still may damage the liver. For this reason, screening is an important tool for early detection and treatment. It can prevent serious illness, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, and hinder the spread of infection.

Vaccination for hepatitis is also an important prevention tool.

Hepatitis B Screening

Doctors recommend a hepatitis B test for unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for becoming infected. Although there is no standard screening process for the general population, most people are now vaccinated during infancy, a practice that has been in place since 1990.

Unvaccinated adults who are at increased risk include men who have sex with other men, people who plan to travel to a country where hepatitis B is common, and healthcare workers who care for people infected with hepatitis B. Pregnant women are also routinely screened for hepatitis B as part of prenatal care to prevent the virus from being passed from mother to child during delivery.

Our doctors may also recommend hepatitis B screening for people with certain medical conditions that require treatment with immunosuppressive medication. These therapies can cause a dormant hepatitis B virus to reactivate, even if the infection hasn’t been diagnosed or caused symptoms. People with rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or cancer, for instance, may be tested for hepatitis B before starting treatment with immunosuppressive medication.

To test for hepatitis B, your doctor draws a small amount of blood from a vein in the arm and sends it to a laboratory for analysis. Results are usually available within days.

Hepatitis C Screening

Doctors at NYU Langone recommend screening for hepatitis C if you

  • were born between 1945 and 1965, when transmission rates were highest.
  • received a blood transfusion before July 1992, when federal guidelines began requiring that all blood donations be screened for hepatitis.
  • have had long-term dialysis.
  • use or have ever used intravenous drugs.
  • are the child of a mother who had hepatitis C.
  • may be exposed to the virus on the job, such as healthcare workers who have had a needlestick or “sharps” injury or been exposed to the blood or body fluids of a person with hepatitis C.
  • were tattooed by an artist who may not have used sterile needles.
  • have had body piercing.
  • have had multiple sex partners, particularly a partner who is infected.
  • are a man who has sex with other men.
  • have liver disease.
  • have HIV infection or AIDS.
  • had abnormal blood test results for liver enzymes.
  • received clotting factor concentrates made before 1987.

If you fall into one of these groups, it does not necessarily mean you have hepatitis C. Rather, it means that circumstances—such as sharing of needles or having had a blood transfusion before certain safety guidelines were enacted—elevate your risk of infection.

Screening for hepatitis C involves a simple, two-step blood test. The first step involves testing the blood for the presence of hepatitis C antibodies, which are proteins the body creates if exposed to the virus. If antibodies are detected, the second step involves testing the same blood sample for the presence of the virus itself. A positive result indicates current infection.

Your doctor administers this test in minutes in the office by drawing a small amount of blood from a vein in the arm and sending it to a laboratory. The results are usually available the next day.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved some at-home screening tests for hepatitis C. They are available for purchase online. To complete an at-home test, prick the tip of a finger with a small needle and place a blood sample on a piece of paper—both needle and paper are included in the test kit—and mail it to a laboratory for testing. Test results are available in two weeks.

If the results of a blood test suggest that the virus is present in the bloodstream, doctors recommend further blood tests that can be administered in a doctor’s office or at a testing site at NYU Langone.

More Hepatitis A, B & C Resources

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