About the test for hepatitis C
You will need to have 2 blood tests to find out if you have hepatitis C.
The tests are the:
- antibody test - checks if you’ve ever been exposed to hepatitis C
- PCR test - checks if you currently have hepatitis C infection
The antibody test
Your body makes antibodies in response to hepatitis C infection. It can take up to 3 months for the antibodies to show in your blood after hepatitis C exposure.
If you have ever been exposed to hepatitis C, the test result will read ‘hepatitis C antibody positive’. We can’t tell from this if you still have hepatitis C infection. You will need to have a PCR blood test to check this.
If you have never been exposed to hepatitis C the test result will read ‘antibody negative’. It is likely that you won't need any further tests - speak to your GP or Nurse.
A positive hepatitis C antibody test result can mean 1 of 2 things:
You were exposed to hepatitis C but your body cleared it without treatment
In this case you will have an antibody positive test result for life. The PCR result will be negative. This means you can't pass hepatitis C on to anyone else.
You were exposed to hepatitis C and you still have a current infection
You can only know this by getting a PCR blood test.
The PCR test
This test checks if the hepatitis C virus is still in your body.
A positive test means that your body has not fought off the hepatitis C virus. This means the infection will stay in your body, unless you get hepatitis C treatment. This is a ‘chronic infection’. If you have a positive test result, it is possible to pass hepatitis C infection to others.
Test results usually come back within two weeks.
Read about preventing transmission of hepatitis C.
Further tests if you have the hepatitis C virus
If you have the hepatitis C virus, your GP will recommend other tests. These include liver function blood tests that tell us more about your liver health.
Your GP will also refer you to hospital for an assessment and to discuss treatment. This will be a hepatology or infectious diseases unit.
The specialist doctor and nurse will do more tests to check your liver health. These are blood tests and scans of the liver and abdomen.
A fibroscan takes about 10 to 15 minutes and is like an ultrasound scan.
It checks for damage or stiffness of the liver. This is liver fibrosis.
If you are overweight, a fibroscan may not detect what condition your liver health is in. You might need a different type of scan.