Hepatitis C is a viral infection that primarily affects the liver. Testing for hepatitis C involves specific blood tests to detect the presence of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and determine the stage of the infection. Here are the commonly used tests for hepatitis C:
Hepatitis C Antibody Test (anti-HCV)
The first step in hepatitis C testing is usually an antibody test. This test detects the presence of antibodies produced by the immune system in response to HCV infection. A positive anti-HCV test result indicates exposure to the virus but does not differentiate between a current or past infection.
HCV RNA Test (PCR Test)
If the anti-HCV test is positive, a follow-up test is conducted to detect the presence of HCV RNA in the blood. This test, known as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, directly measures the genetic material (RNA) of the hepatitis C virus. It confirms an active HCV infection and provides information about the viral load (the amount of virus present in the blood).
HCV exists in multiple genetic variations or genotypes. Genotyping determines the specific genotype of the hepatitis C virus. This information is important for guiding treatment decisions, as different genotypes may respond differently to certain antiviral medications.
These tests, in combination with a medical history evaluation and physical examination, help diagnose hepatitis C, assess the stage of the infection, and guide treatment decisions. If you suspect you have been exposed to hepatitis C or have risk factors for infection, it is important to consult a healthcare professional who can order the appropriate tests, interpret the results and provide guidance on further evaluation, treatment options and management of the infection.