A New Rapid Antibody Test for Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a virus that often does not cause noticeable symptoms to those infected. This means that a person can have the virus for months or even years without knowing it. Typically, a person is tested because they have either participated in risky behavior that causes a medical professional to recommend a test or because their blood is tested for another medical issue and the test result comes back positive for hepatitis C exposure.
What is hepatitis C testing?
When a person is tested for this virus, the testing occurs in three stages; the first blood test checks to see whether the body has been exposed to the virus. If the person tests negative, that is the end of the process. If the person tests positive, the next test checks whether the person has the hepatitis C infection. In some cases, a person can be exposed but not become infected, just as a person can become exposed to the common cold but not actually get sick. In addition, approximately 25% of people who become infected are somehow able to fight the virus off naturally and would then test negative for infection. If that test comes back negative, this is the end of the process. If the test comes back positive, the person has hepatitis C. At this point, it becomes important to know which strain (called a genotype) the person has. This is the third and final test. The information is then used to decide on a treatment plan, as different genotypes utilize different medications.
What is the new rapid test for hepatitis C?
The new test, called OraQuick HCV is also a blood test. However, rather than being tested and waiting days for the results via phone by the medical staff at a hospital or clinic, this test is a rapid antibody test. This means that the results are known within 20 minutes. Plus, rather than needing to have a blood draw from a needle into a vein in the arm, it only requires a drop of blood from the prick of a finger. The test is 98% accurate.
Does it matter which test I get?
It depends. While both tests give an accurate result as to whether a person has been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, the type of test may matter to some patients. If a patient has a fear of needles or pain, a rapid test may be better since there is less exposure to needles and the process is faster. If a patient struggles with anxiety, a rapid test may be beneficial as the results are known quicker, causing less time to wonder or worry for the patient. However, different tests may be covered differently by insurance companies.
A traditional test is known to insurance companies and is likely to be covered, whereas the new rapid testing may not be because it is so new. It is important to check with your insurance company before agreeing to this test if the cost is a concern for you. In addition, if a rapid hepatitis C test is performed outside of your normal physician’s office, it is vital that the patient brings all written records to their physician in order to make sure that all information in the patient chart is included and updated. Those who are tested at their doctor’s office will not need to worry about this, which may matter to some patients.
What happens after I get a rapid antibody test?
If you tested negative, you are all set. You may want to ask for the results in writing and provide them to your primary care physician for updated record keeping. You may receive information or counseling at the time of testing in order to provide you with the knowledge to help to keep you from future hepatitis C exposure. If you have questions or concerns about this information, you can ask during the testing process or you can contact your personal doctor to discuss your thoughts.
If you test positive, this means you will need a secondary test, which will occur at your primary care doctor’s office or at a clinic. Since some people have been exposed without becoming infected, there is no reason to panic or make assumptions. Simply contact a doctor or clinic, let them know that you tested positive for exposure to hepatitis C, and ask to make an appointment to find out whether you have been infected. It is important that a person with hepatitis C get treatment right away, in order to avoid potential permanent organ damage. If financial concerns are causing you to worry about affording the secondary test or affording treatment (if it is needed), you can reach out to a local free clinic or contact your doctor or local emergency room to request a referral to a local free or sliding-scale facility.1-4
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