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What is a Hepatitis C test?

Hepatitis C test is performed to detect the presence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the body. Being exposed to HCV-positive blood and sharing personal care items, such as razors, can spread HCV infection. A hepatitis C test not only helps diagnose but also monitor the treatment provided for HCV infection. HCV infection can progress to liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, liver cancer and liver inflammation and damage. Therefore, early detection of the virus can help monitor liver function, identify the presence of chronic infection and provide prompt treatment. According to the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people born between the year 1945 and 1965 should be tested for HCV.

  1. Why is a Hepatitis C test performed?
  2. How do you prepare for a Hepatitis C test?
  3. How is Hepatitis C test performed?
  4. What do Hepatitis C test results indicate?

A hepatitis C test is recommended for people who have had a human immunodeficiency virus infection in the past, received blood transfusions, undergone organ transplants and injected drugs. People who use illicit drug injections, have a piercing or tattoo, receive abnormal results in liver panel tests, have been on long-term dialysis, are born to an HCV-positive mother and have a sexual partner with HCV infection should also undergo this test. HCV test is also performed in people when the following signs of liver disease are observed:

Symptoms of severe liver disease include

  • Swelling in the belly, ankles and feet
  • Mental confusion

Hepatitis C screening is not recommended for pregnant women, public safety workers and emergency medical staff unless they are at a risk of acquiring an infection.

No special preparations are needed for hepatitis C test.

A blood sample is collected from a vein in the arm and stored in a vial attached to the needle. There may be slight discomfort at the time of needle prick, which will subside within a few minutes.

Normal hepatitis C test results indicate the absence of HCV infection in the body, though the infection might still be in an early stage to be detected accurately with this test. A re-test is recommended if HCV infection is still suspected.

Positive or indeterminate test results indicate the absence of HCV. People with this result might not have an infection or might have had an infection in the past. This is determined by further tests that is: HCV viral load test, HCV genotyping test, HCV RNA quantitative test and HCV RNA qualitative test. These tests help determine the presence and number of HCV virus in blood. Abnormal hepatitis C RNA test results indicate the presence of HCV infection and the amount of viral load present in body helps decide the treatment needed. The latter also helps monitor the efficiency of hepatitis C treatment.

Disclaimer: All results must be clinically correlated with the patient’s complaints to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. This information is provided from a purely educational perspective and is in no way a substitute for medical advice from a qualified doctor.

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References

  1. American Liver Foundation [internet]. New York (NY): American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases; Hepatitis C
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services, Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for Health Professionals
  3. American Association For The Study Of Liver Diseases. Infectious Disease Society of America [internet]; HCVGuidelines
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Testing Recommendations for Hepatitis C Virus Infection
  5. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; Hepatitis C Antibody