Free Testing for Hepatitis C and Sexually Transmitted Infections

As we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, testing is essential for getting proper care and preventing spread of disease. The same is true of diseases that are spread by sexual contact or shared needle use. That’s why Southwest Care provides free testing for hepatitis C, HIV, and syphilis. Here we’ll discuss hepatitis C and syphilis. Find more about free HIV testing here.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. Acute hepatitis C happens within the first six months after exposure and can be a short-term illness. Unfortunately, for more than half of those infected, acute hepatitis C leads to chronic, long-term hepatitis C. For these people, the disease can become a lifelong condition that can lead to liver damage or failure,
cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death.  

How is Hepatitis C Spread?

Hepatitis C is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood. That can happen through sharing needles to inject drugs, getting a tattoo or piercing with unsterile equipment (such as at an unlicensed facility), or sometimes by sharing personal items such as a toothbrush or nail clippers that have been contaminated with even a small amount of infected blood. It can also be spread through sexual contact, most often between men.

What are Symptoms of Hepatitis C?

The reason that it’s so important for people who are at risk for Hepatitis C to get tested on a regular basis is that most people exhibit no symptoms. For those who do, acute hepatitis C symptoms can show up two to 12 weeks after exposure to the virus. Symptoms may include jaundice (yellow eyes or skin), lack of appetite, vomiting, stomach pain, fever, dark urine, feeling tired, and joint pain.

Those with chronic hepatitis C may have symptoms such as fatigue and depression. The long-term problems associated with hepatitis C like liver disease usually come on gradually over decades and may not have symptoms. 

How Do I Get Tested for Hepatitis C?

Southwest Care offers free Hepatitis C tests that only take 20 minutes to complete. You’ll have the results before you leave the clinic. This HCV rapid test is checking for the Hepatitis C antibodies in your blood. You should be tested if you’ve ever injected drugs because not everyone with Hepatitis C exhibits symptoms.

The free rapid Hepatitis C test can detect HCV in your system a month after exposure. It is important to note that if you have ever had HCV in the past, a rapid test will always test positive even if you don’t currently have the disease. If you have never had it before and test positive now, the test will be accurate. If you test positive on the rapid HCV test, your doctor will conduct a nucleic acid test (NAT) to see if you are currently infected with hepatitis C.

What is the Treatment for Hepatitis C?

Although there are vaccinations to prevent hepatitis A and B, there is currently none for hepatitis C. Prevention, testing, and early treatment are the only options. Fortunately, treatment for hepatitis C, when diagnosed early, is a series of pills taken over eight to 12 weeks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these treatments cure more than 90 percent of those with hepatitis C with few side effects.

It is important for those with chronic hepatitis C to have regular appointments with their primary care physician. Southwest Care specializes in treatments for hepatitis C and helps many patients manage their disease.

What is Syphilis and What are the Symptoms?

Syphilis is an STI, a sexually transmitted infection, that can cause serious health problems. It is spread by direct contact with a syphilis sore during sex, either oral, vaginal, or anal. 

While abstinence or being in an exclusive, long-term sexual relationship with a partner who has tested negative for syphilis are the only ways to be sure to avoid the disease, there are ways to mitigate risk, such as always using a condom properly during sex.

There are four stages of syphilis and symptoms can be different in each. In the primary stage, watch for one or more sores where syphilis entered your body, such as on the penis, vagina, anus, lips, or in the mouth. In the secondary stage, symptoms may include skin rashes at the location of the sores, in addition to fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, weight loss, headaches, and even patchy hair loss. 

Untreated syphilis can lead to even more serious problems with the brain, nervous system, eyes, and ears. Get tested and treated early to prevent these effects that cannot be


How do I Get Tested For Syphilis?

Come to Southwest Care for testing, which is either a blood test or by testing fluid from a sore. If you test positive for syphilis, we’ll prescribe a course of antibiotics that can cure the disease. Unfortunately, while you can be cured of syphilis, damage caused by the infection may remain. 

Follow up treatment with your medical care provider is essential to insure the treatment was successful and to discuss ways to reduce your risk of contracting syphilis again, which can happen. 

About Southwest Care

Southwest Care, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization,  was founded to serve people with HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, and sexually transmitted diseases with compassion and without judgment. We have served our community for more than 25 years, expanding to many other medical services such as primary care, pediatrics, women’s health, and gender equity medicine. We have clinics in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico.