Hepatitis C Virus Tests
Hepatitis C Virus Tests
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
proteins will be present in your blood if you have a hepatitis C infection now
or have had one in the past. It is important to identify the type of hepatitis
virus causing the infection, to prevent its spread and choose the proper
HCV is spread
through infected blood.
- Anti-HCV antibody tests
look for antibodies to HCV in the blood, indicating an HCV infection has
occurred. This test cannot tell the difference between an acute or long-term (chronic)
infection. The enzyme immunoassay (EIA) may be the first test done to detect
- HCV RIBA is another test that detects antibodies to HCV. This test can tell whether a
positive result was caused by an actual HCV infection or whether the result was
false-positive. This test may be done to double-check
a positive EIA test result.
- HCV genetic
material (RNA) testing uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to identify an
active hepatitis C infection. The RNA can be found in a person’s blood within 2 weeks after exposure to the virus. HCV RNA testing may be done to
double-check a positive result on an HCV antibody test, measure the level of
virus in the blood (called viral load), or show how well a person with HCV is
responding to treatment.
- HCV quantitative
test (also called viral load) is often used before and during treatment to find
out how long treatment needs to be given and to check how well treatment is
- HCV viral genotyping is used to
find out which genotype of the HCV virus is present. HCV has six genotypes, and
some are easier to treat than others.
- HCV quantitative
There is no vaccine available to prevent hepatitis
Why It Is Done
Hepatitis C virus testing is done
- Find out if a hepatitis C
infection is the cause of abnormal liver function tests.
- Screen people (such as doctors, dentists, and
nurses) who have an increased chance of getting or spreading a hepatitis C
- Screen potential blood donors and donor organs to
prevent the spread of hepatitis C.
- Screen people born from 1945 to 1965. People in this age group are more likely to have hepatitis C and not know it.footnote 1, footnote 2
- Identify the type of hepatitis C virus causing
How To Prepare
You do not need to do anything before
you have this test.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you
have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what
the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill
medical test information form (What is a PDF document?).
How It Is Done
The health professional taking a sample
of your blood will:
- Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to
stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is
easier to put a needle into the vein.
- Clean the needle site with
- Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick
may be needed.
- Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with
- Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is
- Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as
the needle is removed.
- Put pressure on the site and then put on a
A home test kit
is available for hepatitis C (HCV). The kit contains a sharp instrument
(lancet) that you use to draw 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 available in 10 days. You
are given an identification number to use when calling a toll-free number to
obtain confidential results. If the results of the test are positive, it is
important for you to make an appointment with your doctor to
confirm the test results, determine the amount of damage to your liver, and
determine whether antiviral therapy is an option.
How It Feels
The blood sample is taken from a vein in
your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight.
You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or
There is very little chance of a problem from
having a blood sample taken from a vein.
- You may get a small bruise at the site. You
can lower the chance of bruising by keeping pressure on the site for several
- In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after the
blood sample is taken. This problem is called phlebitis. A warm compress can be
used several times a day to treat this.
Results of hepatitis C virus testing that show no infection are called
negative. This means that no antibodies against HCV or HCV genetic material was
found. Results are usually available in 5 to 7 days.
No hepatitis C antibodies are found.
No hepatitis C genetic material (RNA) is
Hepatitis C antibodies are found. A test to detect HCV RNA
Hepatitis C RNA is detected. This
antibodies can take weeks to develop, so your results
may be negative even though you are in the early stage of an infection.
What Affects the Test
Many conditions can change HCV
antibody levels. Your doctor will talk with you about any abnormal results that
may be related to your symptoms and past health.
may need to be rechecked if you are taking some herbs, supplements, or other alternative medicine products.
What To Think About
- There is no vaccine to prevent
infections with the hepatitis C virus.
- All donated blood and
organs are tested for hepatitis C before being used.
- Other tests
that show how well the liver is working are usually done if your doctor thinks
you may have hepatitis C. These may include blood tests for bilirubin, alkaline
phosphatase, alanine aminotransferase, and aspartate aminotransferase.
states require that some types of hepatitis infections be reported to the local
health department. The health department can then send out a warning to other
people who may have been infected with the hepatitis virus, such as those who
are close contacts of someone who has hepatitis C.
- Smith BD, et al. (2012). Recommendations for the identification of chronic hepatitis C virus infection among persons born during 1945-1965. MMWR, 61(RR-4): 1-32. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6104a1.htm.
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2013). Screening for Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Adults: Recommendation Statement. Available online: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspshepc.htm.
Other Works Consulted
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2003). Guidelines for laboratory testing and result reporting of antibody to hepatitis C virus. MMWR, 52(RR-03): 1-16. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5203a1.htm.
- Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby.
- Scott JD, Gretch DR (2007). Molecular diagnostics of hepatitis C virus infection: A systematic review. JAMA, 297(7): 724-732.
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. Thomas London, MD – Hepatology
Current as ofMarch 3, 2017
Current as of:
March 3, 2017