Antibodies vs RNA

I think there are many confusing and frustrating things about hepatitis C. For me, one of the biggest is explaining clearly the difference between hepatitis C antibodies and RNA. Many people probably consider the basic pieces fairly easy to understand.

What are hepatitis C antibodies?

Antibodies are created by the body in response to an infection. On the surface, they very much have the, “the British are here,” feel. Except of course that roughly 25% of the time the British apparently don’t show up. And if they do, and we gain our independence through revolt (a.k.a being cured) then we still have the Paul Revere’s running around crying wolf! (So rude!)

I guess what I’m getting at is the confusing part about antibodies vs RNA lies in the very idea that their presence doesn’t mean you’re currently living with hepatitis C. This seems to persist even though an antibody test is the universal way to screen for hep C while at the same time gaps in the treatment cascade exist because people aren’t getting confirmatory RNA testing. For me, this makes it likely that there is a communication or some other break down happening that can be easily addressed.

The differences between exposure and chronic infection

At the end of the day antibodies simply mean that at some point you were exposed, which is good information to have, but what we really want to know is do we presently have the hepatitis C virus. Then, after that, we of course want to know why we still have antibodies and what it means.

Everyone who has had, will have, or currently is living with hepatitis C will have different treatment experiences based on a lot of factors. A common theme I see with folks that I talk and work with is the lack of clear explanation about hepatitis C antibodies after being cured and what it means about current infection.

This is where resources like the ones you find on this website are useful. You can also ask those you may know who have had it or are cured. Ideally though your doctor or a health care worker you have contact with will take the time to sit down with you and take as long as necessary to answer your questions. I’ve spent 45 minutes before having discussions about the difference in just antibodies and RNA with folks. Folks who tell me previous medical providers dismissed them as dumb or acted as if they were annoyed by their “basic” questions. This is the exact opposite of what should be happening.

There are no stupid questions. Only silent ones. To end the silent epidemic, we must end the silence in all respects. That happens by encouraging noise.

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