What Tests Are Run for Hepatitis C

For many years, there was not a test available for the hepatitis C virus. In 1992, a sensitive screening became available. From that point on, American blood banks began to screen for HCV, but the word was not out to the general public. In recent years, the Centers for Disease Control has made progress in pushing testing to a top level priority. Testing can be done in a single lab panel through one blood draw. It can also be done with a rapid test with a skin prick. Early detection means quicker treatment.

The first test is for antibodies. It can tell if there was an exposure to the hepatitis C virus. Some clinics will get all the information on the first test. Many wait to see if the first one is positive. If it is negative, there is no virus in your bloodstream. If it is too early, later testing may be necessary after your exposure to the virus. If it is positive, additional tests will be done.

The second test is an RNA test. It is usually done if your blood shows positive for hepatitis C. The RNA test and will tell if the virus is truly active in your bloodstream. For example, you may have had hepatitis C in the past and were able to clear it without medication. This is also talked about as the “detected” or “not detected” test and is important before and during treatment.

The viral load also comes from the 2nd test. Your RNA test gives more information than just “detected” or “not detected”. The other result that your doctor will look for is the viral load. This is a number. You may see the word “quantitative” because it shows the quantity of the RNA particles in your blood stream. Don’t get freaked out over the number. Mine went up and down before treatment. Whether you have 1 or a million in your viral load, it is there. It needs to be treated as soon as possible. The viral load really becomes important once treatment for hepatitis C begins. Your doctor will monitor the number to see if you are responding to treatment.

The final testing is for genotype. There are 6 different kinds, or types. Each type has numbers. I was genotype 1a, which is most common. It also was considered the hardest to cure when I treated. Genotype 2 and 3 are easier to cure. Your doctor will be able to determine the best medication based on your genotype. They will also be able to determine how long the treatment should last based on this test and other factors.

Rapid Testing is available. A 20 minute skin prick test is also available. This is often done at local community affairs. Check your local newspaper or look at the list below for more locations.

If the virus is detected, a return visit for additional screening can reveal the specific genotype. A small plastic device uses a sample of your blood on a swab. The swab is inserted into a mixture and left for 20 minutes. The easy to read results can detect the hepatitis C virus and tell you if more tests are needed.

The accuracy of these tests have helped to save many lives, including my own. You can get tested in several locations. You and your friends and loved ones should be tested if you suspect exposure to the hepatitis C virus:

  • City or County Health Department
  • Community Health Clinics
  • Doctors Office
  • Emergency Room
  • Medical Laboratory

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