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Hepatitis C Blood Test

Last updated Oct. 28, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

CDC

Imaging encouraging individuals to tested for Hepatitis C.


What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • Anti-HCV (Hepatitis C Antibody) Blood Test
  • HCV-RNA Blood Test
  • Viral Hepatitis C RNA by PCR Blood Test

What is Hepatitis C Blood Test? (Background Information)

  • The hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects the liver, causing damage and inflammation (hepatitis). It is transmitted via:
    • Contaminated blood - through sharing of IV needles
    • Other blood contaminated products, like razors
    • Sexual contact
    • Blood transfusions
    • Sometimes, from a mother to a child, during birth
  • HCV infection in the acute stages may be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. In most cases, it leads onto chronic liver disease and may cause liver disorders, such as cirrhosis (scarring) or liver cancer
  • A Hepatitis C Blood Test is performed to screen for hepatitis C infection in high-risk individuals, or to diagnose the cause of hepatitis in an individual. Testing is also done to guide and monitor treatment
  • Testing for HCV looks for the presence of:
    • Antibodies in the blood of individuals, who have been exposed to the virus
    • Any individual, who tests positive for the anti-HCV antibodies, is evaluated with tests to detect the presence of viral RNA (the genetic material of HCV). This helps to differentiate between a past and present infection. An individual with current infection will test positive for viral RNA
    • The amount of viral RNA (the viral load) helps to monitor the progress, during treatment
    • The viral genotype (the type of HCV) helps in defining the treatment duration and predicting success. Genotypes 2 and 3 respond to treatment better than genotype 1

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Hepatitis C Blood Test?

According to CDC, screening of hepatitis C virus is recommended in:

  • Intravenous drug users
  • Long-term dialysis patients
  • Healthcare workers with needle stick or sharps injury, or mucosal exposure to HCV-contaminated blood
  • HIV positive individuals
  • Those with chronic liver disease
  • Individuals, who received clotting factor concentrates before 1987, or a blood transfusion, or an organ transplant, prior to July 1992
  • Children born to HCV-positive mothers

The Hepatitis C Blood Test may also be done, to investigate individuals with abnormal liver parameters, or those with symptoms of hepatitis, such as:

  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Dark urine

HCV genotyping at the start of treatment helps to plan therapy, while periodic viral load monitoring helps track progress.

How is the Specimen Collected for Hepatitis C Blood Test?

Sample required: Blood

Process: Blood sample is obtained through a needle inserted into a vein in the arm.

Preparation required: None

What is the Significance of the Hepatitis C Blood Test Result?

The Hepatitis C Blood Test may have the following outcomes:

  • An individual, who tests negative for hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody may not have any infection, or may have been exposed to the virus, very recently. The physician may order a re-testing after a period of time, if HCV infection is still suspected
  • An individual, who tests positive or indeterminate for HCV antibody, is then tested for the presence of viral RNA.
    • Viral RNA negative/undetected - indicates a past infection
    • Viral RNA positive - indicates current infection
  • A viral genotyping is performed to identify the type of HCV present, in order to choose appropriate treatment measures
  • A HCV RNA quantitative test or a viral load test is conducted at the start of therapy. It is then performed periodically to find the amount of viral particles in blood, and to monitor response to treatment

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • The most common genotype in USA is genotype 1. This requires 48 weeks of treatment, while genotypes 2 and 3 are to be treated for 24 weeks
  • The viral load may reduce by as much as 99%, within 4-12 weeks of successful treatment
  • Blood products are screened for hepatitis C virus

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider, the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 1, 2014
Last updated: Oct. 28, 2018