Hepatitis C Virus

Other names: HCV

The hepatitis C test is used to detect the presence of hepatitis C antibodies; antibodies are produced by the body’s immune system in response to a viral or bacterial infection; this test detects antibodies produced in response to exposure to the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is a viral infection, which affects the liver; it is passed onto other people through exchange of bodily fluids and is most commonly transferred through unprotected sexual intercourse and exposure to infected blood (usually through use of needles, which have been used by an affected person or from a blood transfusion.)

When is the test used?

The test is primarily used to diagnose patients who are suspected of having hepatitis C; it may also be used on a patient who has been exposed to the virus and fears they may have been infected.

If a patient has already been diagnosed with hepatitis C, the test may be carried out to monitor their condition and assess the efficacy of treatments. There are five tests, which are used to test for hepatitis C; these include:

  • Anti-HCV tests: this test is used to detect HCV antibodies.
  • HCV RIBA test: this is also used to test for HCV antibodies.
  • HCV-RNA test: this is used to test for the presence of the virus in the blood; it determines whether the infection is active.
  • Viral load (or quantitative HCV tests): this test measures the concentration of the virus in the blood.
  • Viral genotyping: this is used to determine the type of virus (there are 6 types of HCV)

The test is usually ordered when a patient has symptoms associated with hepatitis C; it may also be ordered when a patient has been exposed to the virus or they suspect that they may have been exposed to it (for example, if they have had unprotected sex or they have injected drugs using a needle, which has been used by somebody else).

The test is also routinely used for medical professionals, who may have been exposed to the virus by means of needle-stick injuries and exposure to bodily fluids.

How is the test performed?

The test is carried out by taking a sample of blood from a vein in the arm (usually on the inside of the elbow); a needle is inserted into the vein and the blood is collected in a syringe. Once the sample has been collected, it will be placed in a bottle, labelled with the patient’s name and sent to the laboratory for testing.

What do the test results mean?

If the test result for the antibody test is positive, it is likely that the patient has been infected by the hepatitis C virus; some people are not aware of this as they do not suffer any symptoms.

If the results of the RIBA test are positive, this usually means that the patient has been exposed to the virus; if the test result is negative, this indicates that patient has not been infected with HCV.

A positive RNA test result usually indicates that the patient has an active infection.

Specific Blood Tests

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