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Hepatitis C Test

This test checks for HCV antibodies in the blood.

Collection method

Typically blood (venipuncture)

Test preparation

None

Restrictions

Ages 18+ only; Could vary by provider

Turnaround time

Typically 48-72 hours

Hepatitis C testing

Hepatitis C testing is the important first step in identifying a hepatitis C infection. Early detection and treatment of hepatitis C can help prevent liver damage and improve overall outcomes. Hepatitis C tests can detect the presence of the virus, as well as measure the viral load and determine the genotype of the virus.

What tests are used to diagnose hepatitis C?

Several tests are currently approved to diagnose the different variations of hepatitis—including hepatitis C. According to the CDC, these tests include:

  • HCV antibody test: A blood test that detects antibodies in the body that are produced in response to the hepatitis C virus. A positive result for this test indicates that a person has been infected with the virus at some point in their life.
  • HCV RNA test: This is a blood test that detects the genetic material (RNA) of the hepatitis C virus. A positive result indicates that the virus is currently present in the body.
  • HCV genotype test: This is a blood test that determines the specific genotype (strain) of the hepatitis C virus, which can help guide treatment decisions.
  • Liver function tests (LFTs): These blood tests measure the levels of various enzymes and proteins in the blood that indicate how well the liver is functioning. LFTs can help evaluate the presence and extent of liver damage caused by hepatitis C.

It is common for a combination of these tests to be used to confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis C, as noted by the Mayo Clinic.

Who should get tested for hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C spreads through contact with the blood of someone who is infected. According to the CDC, you should be tested for hepatitis C if any of the following scenarios apply to you:

  • Have ever injected drugs, even if it was only once or many years ago
  • Received blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
  • Received a clotting factor concentrate before 1987
  • Were born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • Have ever had abnormal liver tests or liver disease
  • Have HIV infection
  • Work in healthcare or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needlestick or injury with a sharp object
  • Were or are currently incarcerated in a correctional facility

Because early detection and treatment of hepatitis C can help prevent liver damage and improve outcomes, it is important to get tested if any of these risk factors apply to you.

What to expect with a hepatitis C test

Getting tested for hepatitis C is a straightforward process. The specific tests used may vary depending on the healthcare provider and testing facility, however, the Mayo Clinic describes the hepatitis blood test in a few simple steps.

A healthcare provider will take a small sample of your blood, usually from a vein in your arm or hand, then the blood sample will be sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results will usually be available within a few days to a week.

How long after exposure can hepatitis C be detected in a test?

It takes 8-11 weeks after exposure for testing to be positive if you have a hepatitis c infection, according to the CDC.

What happens if I test positive for hepatitis C?

If the results are positive for hepatitis C, the CDC recommends further testing to determine the extent of the infection and the best course of treatment. It is important to follow up with a healthcare provider to discuss your results and the next steps for your specific case.

How to get a hepatitis C test

Hepatitis C testing can be done at most healthcare facilities—such as a hospital, walk-in clinic, urgent care, or primary care office. Some walk-in laboratories also offer hepatitis testing, without the need for a doctor's referral.

Can I get an at-home hepatitis C test?

Yes, there are at-home hepatitis C test kits available for purchase. These kits typically involve collecting a small blood sample by pricking your finger, then sending the blood sample to a laboratory for analysis. The results are usually available within a few days to a week.

It is important to note that while at-home hepatitis C test kits may be convenient, they may not be as accurate as tests performed in a healthcare setting. If you receive a positive result from an at-home test, it is recommended that you follow up with a healthcare provider for confirmation and further evaluation. Additionally, if you are at risk for hepatitis C, it may be more appropriate to get tested in a healthcare setting, where you can discuss your risk factors and potential treatment options with a healthcare provider.

Cost of hepatitis C testing

The cost of hepatitis C testing in the USA can vary depending on several factors, including the specific type of test, the healthcare provider, your location, and your insurance coverage. Without insurance, the cost of a hepatitis C test can range from $24 to $59 or more for each test, according to FindLabTests.com.

More about hepatitis C

What is hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver, caused by a specific variant of the hepatitis virus. It is spread through direct contact with the blood of someone who has it.

According to the CDC, some people experience hepatitis C only for a short time, but more than half of those infected will develop a chronic hepatitis C infection with the potential for serious complications.

How is hepatitis C transmitted?

Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with blood from someone who has it. This happens often in situations like

  • Sharing drug injection tools (needles, syringes)
  • Accidental needlesticks in a healthcare or caregiving setting
  • Nonsterile items used for piercing or tattooing
  • Rituals that involve blood sharing or cutting
  • From mother to child during childbirth

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

In the early stages of a hepatitis C infection, symptoms range from nothing to flu-like symptoms. The CDC outlines the early stages of hepatitis C symptoms as:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches and chills
  • Loss of appetite

It is important to note that more than half of people with hepatitis C are unaware that they have it, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is why the CDC recommends being tested if you have any risk factors.

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Hepatitis C Testing FAQs

Find answers to the most commonly asked questions about lab tests.

Hepatitis C testing is considered to be highly accurate, but the accuracy can vary depending on the specific test used and the timing of the test in relation to the infection. According to the NLM the HCV antibody test (which detects the presence of antibodies produced by the body in response to the hepatitis C virus) is the most accurate test. However, false positive results can occur in people who have been recently vaccinated, have autoimmune disorders, or have undergone recent blood transfusions. The HCV RNA test, which detects the genetic material of the hepatitis C virus, is also highly accurate according to the NLM.
Getting a false positive result is very rare, however, the NLM notes that this can occur in people who have been vaccinated against hepatitis, have an autoimmune disorder, or have received a blood transfusion recently.
Getting a false negative result is very rare, however, the NLM notes that it can happen if the HCV test is performed in the early stages of infection. This is because the test looks for antibodies produced in the body, and if a test is done too early, there may not be enough antibodies present to detect. False-negative results can also occur in people with weakened immune systems—such as those with HIV—according to the NLM
An HCV antibody test is a blood test that looks for antibodies to the hepatitis C virus, according to the NLM.
The CDC recommends that every adult get tested for hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime, and more often if they have certain high-risk factors. These factors include:
  • People who have HIV Anyone who has used drug injection tools, such as needles and syringes
  • People who received maintenance hemodialysis
  • People who received clotting factor concentrates produced before 1987
  • People who received a transfusion of blood or blood components before July 1992
  • People who received an organ transplant before July 1992
  • Health care, emergency medical, and public safety personnel after needle sticks, sharps, or mucosal exposures to HCV-positive blood
  • Children born to mothers with HCV infection
Currently, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
There is no cure for hepatitis C, according to the CDC. But there are antiviral medications that are used to manage symptoms and slow the progression of the virus.

This publication is not intended to solicit the purchase of laboratory testing from any individual consumer.

Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD

Updated on Jan 25, 2023

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD
LinkedIn

Dr. Rob Rohatsch currently serves as Chief Medical Officer for Solv Health. Dr. Rohatsch brings his extensive background in multi-site ambulatory medicine operations, on-demand healthcare, and consumerism to Solv, where he helps drive strategic initiatives in a cross functional executive role. He brings comprehensive healthcare expertise ranging from medical group operations to revenue cycle management and clinical expertise.

Dr. Rohatsch completed his military service in the US Air Force and earned his MD from Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Rohatsch served on the Yale School of Medicine faculty teaching at the medical school and is currently on faculty at the Haslam School of Business at the University of Tennessee teaching in the Executive MBA Program. He also serves on several boards and chairs The TJ Lobraico Foundation.

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