In the United States, hepatitis C is the most common chronic viral infection found in blood, affecting about 2.5 million people [1]. Although this infection is usually curable with a timely diagnosis and treatment, there are many misconceptions surrounding this infection that can make seeking screening and treatment feel stigmatizing. The associated stigma can create a barrier to screening participation, making it difficult for patients to visit health clinics or primary care providers for testing.

As delayed screening can adversely influence the course of illness and further marginalize patients, it is crucial to explore alternative screening options that empower people to screen on their own terms. LetsGetChecked’s at-home Hepatitis C Test is an easily accessible and confidential screening alternative that enables people to test within the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

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How stigma prevents people from seeking hepatitis C screening

Hepatitis C is one of the most widely stigmatized diseases due to the misconceptions surrounding the way the virus is spread. Stigma can come from any part of a person’s life, including family, friends, co-workers, and even medical professionals. While the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is only transmitted through direct contact with blood carrying it, many people remain fearful of “catching” it through hugging, kissing, or sharing a glass with someone. The fear of social isolation from friends, relatives, and romantic partners can discourage people from seeking the appropriate testing.

Medical professionals might seem like a non-judgemental source to seek medical help without fear of embarrassment or disapproval. However, even some medical professionals can stigmatize patients by blaming or shaming them for behaviors that may have factored into their status. A 2017 review of studies found that this form of stigma could create problems with people understanding their diagnosis and seeking treatment [2]. People who faced judgment from the medical professionals they counted on for help felt like they were less worthy of treatment. Disease-related stigma impacts care and treatment uptake, leading to poor health outcomes and exacerbating health disparities.

See also: How At-Home Health Testing Can Help Providers Increase Hepatitis C Screening for Pregnant Women

The consequences of delayed hepatitis C screening

Those who avoid testing cannot get the treatment they need to prevent complications. Although people can live with hepatitis C for months or years before receiving a diagnosis, it doesn’t mean delaying treatment is safe. The longer a person lives with hepatitis C, the greater the damage that occurs in the body. The long-term effects of untreated hepatitis C include:

  • Blood pressure issues
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Heart issues
  • Joint and muscle issues
  • Liver cancer
  • Nerve problems

Early identification of HCV enables people early treatment, helping prevent severe liver damage, reducing the risk of more extreme healthcare costs, and potentially saving lives.

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See also: Improving Long Term Health Through Increased Access to Hepatitis C Screening

Overcoming stigma with safe and confidential at-home testing

Private, at-home hepatitis C screening can help people feel more comfortable engaging in testing. LetsGetChecked’s at-home Hepatitis C Test enables patients to self-test and receive confidential results from their secure online accounts. Providing an alternative for people who would prefer not to visit traditional testing facilities can decrease the number of individuals who do not know their HCV status while also reducing the stigma around testing.

With over 30 tests, LetsGetChecked is empowering people from all backgrounds with the ability to access quality testing from the comfort of home.

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