Screening for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C Antibody Test

The first screening test is usually a hepatitis C antibody test. If the antibody test is positive, it means that you may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus at some point in your life. The antibody test does not show whether or not you still have the virus in your body. For some people (about 15-25%), the body’s natural defenses get rid of the virus while others will continue to carry the virus in their bodies. An additional RNA test is needed to confirm a positive hepatitis C antibody test result. It can take up to 6 months for hepatitis C antibodies to be detected in the blood, so a negative antibody test does not always mean you are negative for the virus. If you tested negative, but think you could have been infected in the last 6 months, you should wait 6 months and repeat the test again.

Confirming Hepatitis C

RNA (or PCR) Test

If you have a positive hepatitis C antibody test, the next step is to see a doctor to confirm the diagnosis with a test that detects the virus itself. This test is called a RNA test or PCR test. If this test is positive, you should see a doctor for hepatitis C care and treatment.

Treatment for Hepatitis C

While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, there are several medications to treat hepatitis C that are highly effective and have fewer side effects than previous options. Hepatitis C can be cured through treatment with a provider. Based on your medical history, physical exam, laboratory and other test results, your health care provider will suggest which medications are right for you. This decision will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The type of hepatitis C you have (called a “genotype”).
  • Whether or not you have liver disease (cirrhosis), and if the disease is mild (compensated) or severe (decompensated).
  • If you’ve received treatment before and which medications were used.
  • Other health conditions you may have.

Treatment regimens are usually 8 or 12 weeks, but sometimes longer.

Sources:

American Liver Foundation – https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/hepatitis-c/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm  &  https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/PDFs/HepCGettingTested.pdf