The hepatitis C antibody test detects the presence of antibodies produced against the hepatitis C virus in the event of exposure.
The test not only detects the antibody response in case of an acute (or even chronic) exposure but also quantifies the response to determine the event's significance. Like with most laboratory tests, hepatitis C tests can only be determined "reactive" or "non-reactive" through their relationship with the "cut-off" value. As a general reference range, any response between 0-0.9 is deemed non-reactive, simply negative. Any response above 0.9 is considered reactive and, thus, positive.
Although trying to understand what the numbers on your hepatitis C test mean in relation to the reference range is a good idea, there is usually no need for it. Most test results also indicate whether your test is "positive" or "negative."
UNDERSTANDING YOUR HEPATITIS C TEST RESULTS
Hepatitis C is a condition in which the liver is inflamed in response to an infection. The hepatitis C virus or HCV causes the infection. This virus is bloodborne and is usually transmitted through direct exposure to contaminated blood.
Since the virus travels through the blood to reach the liver of an individual, it is a good idea to test the blood of the patient to determine if they have the infection or not. A simple blood test can determine whether a person has been infected with HCV or not.
When your blood test results return, there usually can be one of the two possibilities: your test results can either be reactive (positive) or non-reactive (negative). These outcomes are often correlated with a certain quantity of your test results. This quantity is usually a representation or an index of viral load or the antibody response in your blood.
Viral load refers to the number of viral particles detected in your blood. The lower the viral load, the better the outcome. The antibody response is self-explanatory: it is the antibodies produced in response to the virus entering your bloodstream. The antibody response also reflects the severity of your exposure to HCV. A low antibody response indicates a less-severe exposure, and a high antibody response indicates that the exposure event was very significant, meaning a higher likelihood of an infection developing after the exposure.
Now that you understand the background of your tests, let us see what your test results indicate. Understanding hepatitis C test results is very simple. A reactive hepatitis C antibody test means that antibodies against the hepatitis C virus were found in your blood.
Note that this only means that you have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus at any point in your life. It could mean that you have a current infection, but it could also mean that you have had an infection in the past that has now resolved but still have the antibodies from it. The distinction between an old and a current infection is only made through the PCR test.
Any value above 0.9 on the PCR test indicates a positive test. Values between 0 and 0.9 indicate insignificant results and can be called negative. Therefore, a value of 0.1 on a hepatitis PCR test would indicate a negative result.
Similarly, a non-reactive or a negative antibody test indicates there are no circulating antibodies against the hepatitis virus C in your blood. Therefore, you do not have hepatitis.
CAN MY HEPATITIS C TEST RESULTS BE WRONG?
While not very likely, getting false test results with hepatitis C testing is definitely a possibility. Since these tests are much more specific than they are sensitive, the number of false-positive cases is much higher than the number of false-negative cases.
A false-positive result can be obtained when you've had a hepatitis C infection in the past. The infection may have cleared on its own, but the antibodies remain circulating in the blood, which may return a false-positive result later on in life.
A false-positive result can also be obtained if you have other systemic disorders, such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Getting a false-positive test result is not as problematic as at least two positive blood tests are usually required for an accurate diagnosis of hepatitis C.
WHERE CAN I GET TESTED FOR HEPATITIS C?
Getting tested for hepatitis C is now simpler than ever. There are multiple avenues where you can get tested for this condition and get prompt treatment.
The first and foremost place where you should be getting tested for hepatitis C is your doctor’s office. Your doctor is the one person who has an in-depth knowledge of your medical records. They also know your symptoms, and they can also perform a physical exam before evaluating the need for further testing.
Getting tested at your doctor's office saves you a lot of trouble since your doctor has to review the test results later on anyway.
Another place where you can get tested for hepatitis C is any local testing lab. These tests are usually not as expensive, and most insurance companies cover their cost anyway. Local testing labs can also contact your doctor directly if any discrepancy in your blood test comes up. They can also email your test results directly to your doctor.
However, a much easier approach is to simply take a hepatitis C test at home. Home-testing kits are available where you only have to provide a blood sample through the included equipment and mail them over to the testing facility. Test results come back in a few days but may take longer than a week or two as well.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GET TESTED FOR HEPATITIS C?
Most insurance companies cover the cost of getting tested for hepatitis C. So you can choose to pay for your test directly through your insurance and simply wait for the results.
However, in case you don’t have any medical insurance, the hepatitis C tests can prove to be a little expensive. Most hepatitis C blood tests can cost around $100 or more each test.
Local public labs and other testing facilities may provide you with a discounted rate for these blood tests. Public-funded bodies may even help you out in paying for your tests. However, the availability of these funding bodies may vary from state to state.