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What Tests Are Done for Hepatitis C?

What are the tests for hepatitis C?
 

 
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Answer

If a healthcare provider suspects that someone may have hepatitis C or may have been exposed to the virus, often, a screening test is done first. This test checks for antibodies to the virus. It can show if you've ever been exposed to the virus in the past, but it doesn't show whether you still have the virus in your body (some people "clear" the virus and never get chronic hepatitis C).
 
If your screening test comes back positive ("reactive"), this does not mean you have hepatitis C. It means that you need more tests. Hepatitis C RNA tests can check if the virus is still in your body, hepatitis C viral load tests can measure how much of the virus is present in your body, and viral genotyping will test which type of hepatitis C you have.
 
If your hepatitis C antibody is positive ("reactive") but your hepatitis C RNA test comes back negative, you're one of the lucky people whose body naturally took care of the infection -- you do not have hepatitis C! If both tests are positive, you have hepatitis C; the genotyping test needs to be done, as this will determine how long your treatment will last (some genotypes are harder to treat than others).
 
Some doctors skip the screening test altogether and start with the RNA test, but this is an expensive approach that wastes precious healthcare dollars, since the RNA test is much more expensive than the screening test. If your hepatitis C RNA test comes back positive, you have hepatitis C.
 
Your healthcare provider will also likely do tests to check your liver function, but these cannot diagnose hepatitis C.
 
 
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