Antibodies and Hep C

As a person with hepatitis C lived experience, I have always believed that I would test positive for antibodies even though I had been cured. I also knew that they did not offer any protection against any future exposure and subsequent infection.

Antibody testing after treatment

For many years, we have said that people will always have antibodies present when tested, even after being cured. It has mostly been in the context of a person being tested in some future medical investigation unrelated and showing a positive antibody test result. Some who have been cured have shared some confusion when they are informed they have hep C, despite being cured. As this is not always understood well in healthcare, there is no good explanation in that instance from the care provider.

To be fair, I am hearing this less from people, but I suspect it may still occur. I have had a few tests done in recent years as part of my work in testing and linkage to care. The most recent test was with a proven testing mode commonly used, point of care testing (POCT). In the process of filming an instructional video to show how these POCT’s are done, I was the testing subject. I expected a positive result, as I had lived with hep C and I was cured 10 years ago. My test showed up as negative to my surprise. I retested and got the same result. (In earlier tests, I was made aware that my antibodies were reduced, and results were weak, but never negative antibodies.)

Hep C antibodies do not prevent re-infection

What does it mean, in any real terms? Well, in terms of my status as being cured, it means nothing at all, because we do believe, as a fact, that antibodies for hep C offer no protection and so have no real value. It is interesting to me, and that is only because of my interest in the science of why and how things work, and there is some science that points to diminished antibody presence over time, and is it the same with all treatments? We don’t know, and no need to be concerned, unless you too have a mildly science and nerdy side like me.

What do antibodies mean?

Just remember that having antibodies does not always mean you have hep C - it only means you have had exposure to the virus as many as 25% or more people will clear the virus with their own immune response, and yes your antibodies do play a part in that. There is some research that looks at how immune response and treatment affect us over time, and I support more attention to discovering the connection between autoimmune disorders and chronic hep C and treatment, and how our body’s own immune response fits into these mechanisms. It is my hope that we can acquire more understanding, and through that process be able to prevent some of the issues that people are dealing with now and into the future. This has implications for other infectious disease and immunity research & understanding.

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