If you think you could have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus through contact with someone else’s blood, it’s important to ask your health care provider to be tested. If you aren’t sure whether you could be at risk for having contracted HCV, consider if you:
- Are HIV+
- Are, or have ever been, incarcerated
- Have ever shared tattoo or piercing instruments
- Have ever used injection drugs
- Have had unprotected sex
- Have lived in an area where there are high rates of HCV
- Have received a blood transfusion or organ transplant in Canada prior to 1992 or in any country where the blood supply isn’t screened for HCV
- Have received chronic hemodialysis
- Were born between 1945-1975
For more information on the activities that can lead to HCV transmission, visit CATIE.
Being part of the baby boomer generation classifies you as having a risk of having contracted HCV. Research shows that people born between 1945-1965 are 5 times more likely to have contracted HCV than other adults. Although not completely explained it is thought that many of the transmissions occurred between 1960-1980 due to the following:
- Before 1980, there was not the same level of attention given to universal precautions and infection control practices.
- Since HCV can live in the body for many years without causing any symptoms, it’s possible to have been infected decades earlier and not know.
- Widespread screening of blood and blood products hadn’t begun yet, therefore a chance of infection through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
If you don’t have any symptoms, why should you bother getting tested?
HCV can be working in the background, potentially damaging your liver and causing scarring. Over many years, the scars on the liver makes it more and more difficult for that organ to function, and about 25 per cent of those infected develop more serious liver problems such as cirrhosis or cancer. Having an HCV test identify an infection allows your health care provider to treat the condition appropriately and hopefully prevent serious medical problems before symptoms even develop.
A simple blood test can pick up whether there is any of the virus in your bloodstream. Ask your physician or nurse practitioner to order an HCV test for you, or visit one of the many testing locations throughout the North. If your test is positive, additional follow-up testing will be ordered to determine whether you have an active infection or if you were previously infected.
One of the first steps in preventing the spread of HIV is for each of us to know our status. When people learn that they have HIV, they often change their behaviour to avoid passing the virus on to others. It also means that they can be started on treatment, and we know that the sooner we can start treatment, the better the outcomes for the patient.
Testing for HIV is not just for people who participate in unprotected sex or share IV drug supplies. In fact, everybody between the ages of 18-70 should be tested at least every 5 years. The BC HIV testing guidelines also recommend that seniors over the age of 70 are tested once, and that adults who belong to populations at a greater risk for HIV should be tested annually.
Most of the testing locations in our region perform lab testing. This means that a staff member will draw some blood from your and then send it off to the lab in Vancouver where all of our HIV testing is performed. It takes up to 2 weeks to receive results. The waiting can be tough, but knowing your results is worth the wait.
We also have some sites that perform Point of Care Testing. In this method, a staff member will prick your finger to draw a small amount of blood. The results are available within a few short minutes. However, if the test comes back positive, or it’s negative but there’s a chance you could have been exposed to HIV within the last few weeks, you’ll need lab testing as well to get an accurate result.
See our list of testing locations in Northern BC to find where to get tested in your community.
HIV self-test kits offer a safe, reliable, and confidential way for people to screen for HIV infection.
How does HIV Self-Testing work?
The only Health Canada-approved Self-Test kit is the INSTI kit, by Biolytical. The test detects HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibodies. Information on performing the test can be found on the INSTI website. Positive and invalid tests, as well as negative tests performed during the window period, require follow-up testing.
How are Self-Test Kits acquired?
Individuals can purchase the kits directly through the manufacturer’s website.
Organizations and programs that sign on to be a self-test kit distribution site receive their kits free of charge from REACH. They are listed on I am health as a distribution site so that clients in their area know to seek self-test kits there.
Individuals can also access kits for free through the following:
Dried Blood Spot Testing (DBST) is a new testing modality for HIV, Hepatis C (HCV), and syphilis. It is a low barrier testing modality which we have introduced to Northern Health to make Sexually Transmitted and Blood Borne Infections (STBBI) more accessible.
DBST is different from other blood tests because instead of using a needle to collect blood from your vein, it is just a simple finger prick. The blood droplets are then collected on a special piece of paper that is sent to the lab for testing. DBST is a type of testing that is confirmatory for HIV and HCV. This means that you usually don’t need another blood test to confirm the result. If a positive syphilis test result is received, you will need another blood test to confirm diagnosis. DBST is not as sensitive as traditional blood tests.
DBST will be available broadly over the Northern British Columbia and the testing location will be posted.
For more information about DBST, please see the resources below:
If you would like to be tested for HIV or HCV, ask your doctor or nurse practitioner (NP) to order the test(s). If you don’t have a doctor or NP, or aren’t comfortable bringing up the topic with your health care team, there are clinics and programs across the province that offer testing too. To find a clinic near you, visit the BCCDC's SmartSex Clinic Finder.
If there isn’t a clinic in your area, you can speak with a physician over the phone and have testing ordered for you and faxed to the lab of your choice. This service is provided by Options for Sexual Health and you can book your phone appointment by calling 1-800-739-7367, Monday to Friday from 9 am to 9 pm PST.
Talk to your family doctor, nurse practitioner, or contact the HIV/HCV Specialized Support Team. If you have further questions about HIV or any other topic about your sexual health talk to a registered nurse at the BC Centre for Disease Control.
For more information about the administrative team who support chronic disease services, see the Regional Chronic Disease Program.