Diagnosis

Testing for Hepatitis C

How is Hepatitis C Diagnosed?

There are two main blood tests typically used to diagnose Hepatitis C.  First, you’ll have a screening test that shows if you’ve ever had Hepatitis C at some point in your life.  If this test is positive, you’ll have a second test to see if you have Hepatitis C now.   These blood tests are described below:

Hepatitis C Antibody Test

This is the screening test used by doctors to show whether or not you have ever been exposed to Hepatitis C at some time in your life, by detecting antibodies in your blood.  Antibodies are substances your body makes to fight off all kinds of infections.  If you were ever infected with Hepatitis C, your body would have made antibodies to fight the virus.

If the test result is:

  • Negative, it means you have not been exposed to Hepatitis C and further testing is usually not needed.
  • Positive, you have had Hepatitis C at some point.  However, it does not tell you whether you have it now.  You’ll need to see your doctor for another test – the Hepatitis C RNA test – to determine if the virus is still active and present in your blood.

Hepatitis C RNA Qualitative Test

This test will determine whether or not you are currently infected with Hepatitis C.  It is often called the PCR test because of the process used (polymerase chain reaction – hence PCR).  It looks for the genetic material (RNA) of the Hepatitis C virus in your blood.

If the test result is:

  • Positive, it is reported as “detected.”  This confirms that you have Hepatitis C.
  • Negative, it is reported as “not detected.”  This means that even though you might have been exposed to the virus at some point, your body has cleared the infection on its own.

Hepatitis C RNA Quantitative Test

The quantitative test measures the amount of Hepatitis C virus present in your blood.  This measurement is called the “viral load,” and is reported as an exact number.

This test is often used to monitor a person’s response to treatment for Hepatitis C by comparing the amount of virus in your bloodstream before, during, and after treatment.  If you have lower levels of virus in your blood before starting treatment, you may have a better chance of getting rid of the virus.