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Hepatitis C Virus Tests

Test Overview

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) test is a blood test that looks for the genetic material (RNA) of the virus that causes hepatitis or for the proteins (antibodies) the body makes against HCV. These proteins will be present in your blood if you have a hepatitis C infection now or have had one in the past. Different tests are used to get this information.

It's important to identify the type of hepatitis virus causing the infection, to prevent its spread and choose the proper treatment. HCV is spread through infected blood.

There is no vaccine available to prevent hepatitis C.

Why It Is Done

You may need these tests if:

  • You have symptoms of hepatitis.
  • You may have been exposed to the virus. You are more likely to have been exposed to the virus if you inject drugs or are exposed to body fluids (such as if you are a health care worker).
  • You've had other tests that show you have liver problems.
  • You were born between 1945 and 1965. People in this age group are more likely to have hepatitis C and not know it.
  • You have an HIV infection.

The tests also are done to help your doctor decide about your treatment and see how well it works.

How To Prepare

In general, there's nothing you have to do before this test, unless your doctor tells you to.

How It Is Done

A health professional uses a needle to take a blood sample, usually from the arm.

A home test kit is available for hepatitis C (HCV). The kit contains a sharp device (lancet) that you use to take a small sample of blood from your fingertip. The blood sample is then placed on a piece of collection paper and mailed in a prepaid envelope to a lab for testing. Results are ready in 10 days. You'll get an ID number to use when calling a toll-free number to obtain confidential results. If the results of the test are positive, it's important for you to make an appointment with your doctor to confirm the test results, find out the amount of damage to your liver, and see if antiviral therapy is an option.

How It Feels

When a blood sample is taken, you may feel nothing at all from the needle. Or you might feel a quick sting or pinch.

Risks

There is very little chance of having a problem from this test. When a blood sample is taken, a small bruise may form at the site.

Results

Results of hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing that show no infection are called negative. This means that no antibodies against HCV and no HCV genetic material was found. Results are usually ready in 5 to 7 days.

Hepatitis C virus tests

Normal (negative):

No hepatitis C antibodies are found.

No hepatitis C genetic material (RNA) is found.

Abnormal (positive):

Hepatitis C antibodies are found. A test to detect HCV RNA is needed to find out if the infection is current or if it occurred in the past. If HCV RNA is found, genotyping can find out which strain of HCV is causing the infection.

Hepatitis C RNA is found. This result means a current hepatitis C virus infection.

Hepatitis antibodies can take weeks to develop. So your results may be negative even though you are in the early stage of an infection.

Credits

Current as of: September 23, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
W. Thomas London MD - Hepatology