Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can lead to long-lasting damage. The infection is spread by contact with contaminated blood, but most people with the virus show no symptoms. It’s extremely important for at-risk individuals to undergo frequent hepatitis C screenings. For those taking the steps to get tested, here’s what you can expect.
Should I be tested for Hepatitis C?
Adults born between 1945 and 1965 are at a higher risk of Hepatitis C (HCV) infection than other demographics, because blood transfusions during this period were not screened for the virus. Anyone born during the 20 year period should be tested at least once.
Regular HCV testing is recommended for those who:
- Currently inject drugs.
- Ever injected drugs.
- Ever received a blood or organ transfusion before July 1992.
- Children born to HCV-positive mothers.
What are the different Types of HCV Tests?
- Antibody Test
- RNA Qualitative Test
- RNA Quantitative Test
To detect whether or not an individual has ever been exposed to the HCV virus, doctors perform the Hep C Antibody Test. A doctor draws a patient’s blood, which is then tested to detect specific antibodies. If the test is positive and a patient’s blood contains the antibodies that fight off HCV, it means they have been exposed to the virus at some point recently or in the past. A negative test result indicates the patient has not been in contact with the virus and requires no further testing.
RNA Qualitative Test
If your Antibody Test was positive, it’s recommended you take the Hep C RNA Qualitative Test. Often called the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, this screening determines whether or not you are currently infected with hepatitis C. Doctor’s draw blood, which is then screened for the genetic material (RNA) of the virus in your bloodstream. A positive test means you are currently infected with HCV. A negative test means you do not have the virus in your blood at this time. If your antibody test is positive but the qualitative test is negative, this means you were exposed to the virus in the past and your body removed the infection on its own.
RNA Quantitative Test
After a positive Qualitative Test, most doctors recommend the RNA Quantitative Test. This screening measures the exact amount of the virus present in your bloodstream. The doctor will draw blood and have it tested for the viral load. Instead of positive or negative results, the screening report is an exact number. As you undergo future treatment this test can be conducted repeatedly to monitor your body’s response before, during and after a treatment.
Hepatitis C Can Cause Liver Damage
The hepatitis C virus can cause significant damage to a person’s liver. Further testing is required to diagnose fibrosis (scarring of liver tissue) and cirrhosis (chronic liver damage). While a liver biopsy is the traditional method of screening, several effective noninvasive testing methods are now available. FibroSure is a biomarker test that uses the result from six separate blood tests to generate a score that helps indicate the severity of liver damage. Similarly, the FibroScan test uses medical imaging devices to map the elastic properties of soft tissue; scarred or cancerous areas are typically harder than surrounding healthy tissue.
Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B Treatment in Houston
St. Hope Foundation in Texas has medical experts experienced in treating both hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Under the direction of Dr. James Sims, MD, AAHIVS, Chief Medical Director, our medical team stays up to date with the latest advancements in HCV screening and treatment. Contact us today for more information or to schedule an appointment.