Tests for hepatitis C are fairly simple and involve blood sampling. Testing a patient's blood allows for both the detection and quantification of antibodies produced against the virus that causes hepatitis C, the hepatitis C virus.
Hepatitis C tests results can have two simple outcomes. However, most people are unsure about how to read their test results as they may include some confusing terms. Your test results can either be "reactive," which would indicate that you have hepatitis C, or "non-reactive," which simply means that you do not have hepatitis C. Moreover, your test results may also include the viral load along with its reference ranges, which also indicates whether you have hepatitis C or not.
While testing for hepatitis C is fairly simple, sometimes the test may need to be repeated as it can be inconclusive. Often, physicians order retesting to eliminate the possibility of a false-positive test result.
HOW DOES THE HEPATITIS C BLOOD TEST WORK?
As mentioned before, testing for hepatitis C is fairly simple. A routine blood test can detect if a person has been infected with the hepatitis C virus, also called HCV. This blood test checks for antibodies against HCV, so the test is also known as an anti-HCV antibody test. Before we move on to learning how to read your test results, it bodes well to understand how the test works.
Antibodies are proteins produced in response to a trigger, usually an infection. These proteins circulate in the blood to clear out any intruders, such as bacteria and viruses, which can cause harm to and debilitate a person. But how exactly are these antibodies triggered, and how do they clear out the intruding pathogens?
Almost all naturally occurring pathogens have a set of proteins on their cell membranes, called antigens. These antigens are fairly specific to these pathogens and are recognized by our bodies to a great extent. When a pathogen enters the bloodstream, the antigens are quickly picked up by the circulating white blood cells, the police officers of the blood.
These white blood cells (WBCs) then produce various chemicals designed to bring out protective changes in response to this pathogen. One of these chemical substances is antibodies which can also detect the antigens on the pathogens. Antibodies get attached to these antigens and incapacitate the pathogen in one way or the other. Thus, the infection clears out when all of the intruders are incapacitated.
HOW TO READ YOUR HEPATITIS C TEST RESULTS
Now that you understand how antibodies are formed when a pathogen tries to linger inside our bodies, reading your hepatitis C test results becomes much easier.
The hepatitis C blood test detects the antibodies formed against the HCV. If the antibodies are present, the test is reactive and that the person has been infected with the HCV at some point in their life.
Note that the presence of antibodies does not simply mean that the person has an active infection with HCV. A reactive hepatitis C test can also mean that the person has had an infection in the past but does not have any active inflammation now. Further testing is needed to evaluate if there is any ongoing inflammation.
When no antibodies are detected, it means that the test is non-reactive. A non-reactive test can indicate one of the two outcomes: either the individual does not have hepatitis C, or the result is a false positive. A false-positive result can only be excluded with the presence of signs and symptoms of the disease and a follow-up test.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR HEPATITIS C TEST COMES BACK REACTIVE?
Getting a reactive hepatitis C test can be distressing, but it is not the world's end. Hepatitis C is not a menacing disease anymore and can be treated effectively with modern antiviral drugs.
The first thing to do when you get a positive hepatitis C test result is talk to your doctor. Your doctor will carry out a series of tests to evaluate the extent of liver damage (if any) and the severity of your disease.
The severity of your disease will determine if you need treatment with antiviral drugs. If the test determines that this is your first acute hepatitis C episode, symptomatic treatment with painkillers and antipyretics will be enough.
If, however, the severity of your disease warrants immediate treatment, your doctor may start you on Direct-Acting Antivirals or DAAs. Direct Acting Antiviral drugs are extremely effective against hepatitis viruses and can eliminate the disease altogether.
IS MY FAMILY IN DANGER IF I HAVE HEPATITIS C?
Hepatitis C is spread by coming into direct contact with contaminated blood. So unless your family comes into direct contact with your blood, they are mostly safe from this disease. However, there are a few precautionary measures that you should take to eliminate any danger to people around you.
First of all, ensure that you regularly take any antiviral drugs that may have been prescribed to you. Taking your drugs regularly and properly ensures that your disease stays in check. These drugs can also eliminate the virus completely from your body and, thus, eliminate any risk to your family members.
Ensure that you do not share personal hygiene products, such as razors, with anyone. Properly dispose of any bandages and packings that you might have used on a wound. Also, make sure that any syringes that you use, such as for insulin administration, do not come into contact with anyone from your family.
According to the CDC guidelines, getting your family regularly tested for hepatitis C is also a good idea to protect them from this virus.
CAN I GET VACCINATED TO PREVENT HEPATITIS C?
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. However, it does not mean that preventing hepatitis C is impossible. There are plenty of safety measures that you can employ in your daily life to protect yourself from this virus. Simply eliminating any high-risk behaviors that you might have for hepatitis C exposure can drastically decrease the risk of acquiring this virus.