Up to 1 in 30 Baby Boomers may have Hepatitis C and not even know it. That’s what the Hep C blood test can help to determine. The Hep C blood test results are simple. If there are HCV antibodies present in the blood, then this indicates the presence of the Hepatitis C virus. If no antibodies are present, then no further testing or treatment is required unless a suspected exposure has occurred.
There are actually two primary blood tests that are used to determine the presence of this virus. The first is the antibody blood test described above. The second is an RNA qualitative test that will determine if you are currently affected. Sometimes it is referred to as a PCR test because it looks for the genetic materials of the virus in the blood.
A positive blood test confirms Hepatitis C. A negative blood test may mean you were exposed to the virus, but that your body has been able to heal itself.
A third test, the Hep C RNA quantitative test, will measure the current amount of the virus that is in the blood if one of the other two tests comes back as positive. This test is used to initiate a treatment plan and then to monitor the effectiveness of that treatment.
Should I Be Tested for Hepatitis C?
It is recommended that individuals who fit into any of the following categories speak to their medical provider about being tested with the Hep C blood test right away.
- Those who have used illicit injectable drugs.
- Those who received a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before 1992 and have not received a previous Hep C blood test.
- Those who received clotting factor concentrates before 1987 and have not received previous testing.
- Those who are currently on long-term dialysis or were ever treated in such a way.
- Those who work in healthcare settings and may be exposed to sharps, needles, or mucus exposure that may be positive for Hepatitis C.
- Those who may have chronic liver disease or suffer from the symptoms of a liver disease.
- Those who were born between 1945 and 1965.
Most initial testing for HCV involves antibody testing. If this test is positive, then follow-up testing may be ordered to confirm the initial result. Consistently positive results will cause a Hep C diagnosis to be issued.
Those who have an abnormal liver panel result may also have the HCV blood test ordered for them.
What Do My Hep C Blood Test Results Mean?
In most instances, the Hep C blood tests will either be positive or negative. Positive tests indicate either a past or present infection. A negative result will usually mean no infection is present, but a negative result may also occur if the exposure to the virus was recent.
Some blood tests may come back as “weak” or “indeterminate.” This usually indicates that there is an infection that is currently active in the body. An HCV loading test will usually follow up this test result.
Here’s What You Need to Know
The goal of treatment for HCV is to reduce the viral load by 99% or more within the first 2-4 weeks of a treatment plan. This will usually bring the test results of future Hep C blood tests to a negative result. When a patient has an undetectable viral load from HCV blood tests 12 weeks after receiving therapies, then this usually indicates that the infection has responded positively to the treatment being offered.
It can take several months for HCV antibodies to appear after being exposed to the virus. For this reason, if you suspect that you may have been exposed to this virus, you may be asked to wait several months if a negative test result occurs to confirm that the exposure has not resulted in an infection.
Those who have liver disease already present are likely to see an acceleration of the signs and symptoms of HCV. Age is also a potential acceleration factor. This is why all Baby Boomers are encouraged to receive a screening for this virus if they have not already had one.
About 1 in 4 people who have HIV or AIDS will also have HCV as a co-infection.
Hep C may cause mild symptoms, but it can also lead to chronic hepatitis. Chronic HCV can progress to cirrhosis or even liver cancer. Early detection of the virus can lead to its elimination or improved liver functioning.
There is no current vaccine against HCV and you can get infected again after recovering from an infection. This is why anyone who is at a higher risk for exposure should be tested for HCV on a regular basis.