You can be infected with the hepatitis C virus and have no symptoms. Your doctor could find it when he checks your blood and sees that your level of certain liver enzymes is high. If that happens, he'll follow up with other tests to confirm you have the disease.
The first way to check for the infection is a blood test for the hepatitis C antibody. Your body makes this when it’s infected with the virus. The doctor can take blood and send it to a lab, or use a rapid test called OraQuick HCV. It gives results in about 20 minutes.
If the antibody test doesn't find anything, then you probably don't have hepatitis C. But if you’ve been exposed recently, you should test with the hepatitis C PCR test, and you’ll need to be checked again for the antibody to be sure.
The antibody test isn't perfect. It may show a hepatitis C infection when you don’t have one. It could be positive even if you had it in the past and your body cleared the infection.
If the antibody test is positive, your doctor will do a PCR test. It looks for the genetic material of the hepatitis C virus living in your body.
If it doesn’t find anything, you might have had hepatitis C in the past and your body cleared it. Your doctor may repeat the test to be sure.
If both tests show you have hepatitis C, then you’re infected and need treatment.
Tests After the Diagnosis
Before treatment starts, you may have a liver biopsy. This shows how much harm the virus has done. The doctor will insert a special needle through your skin and into the organ. He'll use it to remove a small sample of tissue.
Other ways to measure damage to your liver are the Fibrosure blood test and an ultrasound based test. Your doctor will know which one is best for you.