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Hepatitis C Virus Tests

Hepatitis C 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 HCV. These 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 treatment.

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 anti-HCV antibodies.
  • 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 a 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 working.
    • 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.

There is no vaccine available to prevent hepatitis C.

Why It Is Done

Hepatitis C virus testing is done to:

  • 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 infection.
  • 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.1, 2
  • Identify the type of hepatitis C virus causing the infection.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 16, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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