Key points

  • Screening for hepatitis C begins with a blood test that checks for the presence of HCV antibodies.
  • Tests for hepatitis C are typically done in labs that perform routine bloodwork. A regular blood sample will be taken and analyzed.
  • HCV antibodies shown in test results indicate the presence of the hepatitis C virus.
Was this helpful?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can lead to serious liver damage and other health complications.

It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). HCV is transmitted through exposure to the blood of someone who has the virus.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of hepatitis C or think you may be at risk, discuss getting a blood test with your doctor.

Since symptoms don’t always show up right away — or at all — screening can rule out the condition, or it can help you get the treatment you need.

An HCV antibody test is used to determine whether you’ve contracted the hepatitis C virus. It is sometimes called anti-HCV test.

The test looks for antibodies, which are proteins made by the immune system and released into the bloodstream when the body detects a foreign substance, such as a virus. Having HCV antibodies means a person had been exposed to the virus at some point in the past.

It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get results back. But there are rapid anti-HCV tests, and these results are available in as little as 20–30 minutes.

There are two possible outcomes of an HCV antibody test. The blood panel results will either show that you have a nonreactive result or a reactive result.

If no HCV antibodies are found, the test result is considered to be HCV antibody nonreactive. No further testing or actions are required.

However, if you feel strongly that you might’ve been exposed to HCV, you may opt for another test. False negatives from an HCV-reactive test are rare but not impossible.

A positive HCV antibody test may mean you have an active infection.

While it’s possible not to experience any symptoms, the following are common symptoms of hepatitis C:

  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty concentrating
  • dark urine
  • fever

If you receive a positive HCV antibody test, it can indicate you had a hepatitis C infection at some point in the past. It’s possible to get a positive test result even if the virus is no longer detectable or contagious. If you currently have hepatitis C, a HCV RNA test can confirm an active infection.

If the first test outcome is HCV antibody reactive, a second test is advised. Just because you have HCV antibodies in your bloodstream doesn’t mean you have an active HCV infection.

It can mean you had hepatitis C in the past if you contracted the virus. Once this happens, your body has the ability to produce hepatitis C antibodies for the rest of your life.


The second test checks for HCV ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA molecules play an important role in the expression and regulation of genes. The results of this second test are as follows:

  • If HCV RNA is detected, you currently have HCV.
  • If no HCV RNA is found, that means you have a history of HCV and have cleared the infection, or the test was a false positive.

The HCV RNA test detects how much of the virus is currently in your bloodstream.

A follow-up test may be ordered to determine whether your first HCV antibody reactive outcome was a false positive.

If your test results show an ab score of 0.1, you do not have hepatitis C antibodies in your blood. Scores higher than 1.0, however, indicate you have been exposed to hepatitis C at some point. You may also currently have HCV if results show 1.0 or higher.

If you do have hepatitis C, schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional as soon as possible to plan treatment.

Further testing will be done to determine the extent of the disease and whether there’s been any damage to your liver.

Depending on the nature of your case, you may immediately begin drug treatment.

If you have hepatitis C, there are certain steps that you need to take immediately, including avoiding blood donation and informing your sexual partners of your status.

Your doctor will also need to know all the drugs and supplements you take to make sure that nothing will raise your risk of further liver damage or interact with medications you may be taking.

Speak with your doctor about what other steps and precautions to consider once a diagnosis has been made.

The test for HCV antibodies, as well as follow-up blood tests, can be done in most labs that perform routine bloodwork.

A regular blood sample will be taken and analyzed. No special steps, such as fasting, are needed on your part.

Many insurance companies cover hepatitis C testing, but check with your insurer first to be sure.

If your insurance doesn’t cover the blood test or you don’t have insurance, you may be able to find free or low cost testing in your community. Check with your doctor’s office or local hospital to find out what’s available near you.

Testing for hepatitis C is simple and similar in pain level to any other blood test.

If you’re at risk for the disease or think you may have been exposed to the virus, getting tested — and starting treatment if necessary — can help prevent serious health concerns for years to come.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults ages 18 years and over should be screened for hepatitis C except in settings where the prevalence of HCV infection is less than 0.1%.

Also, all pregnant people should be screened during their pregnancy, except in settings where the prevalence of HCV infection is less than 0.1%.

Hepatitis C is often associated with sharing needles. But there are other methods of transmission.

For example, healthcare workers who are regularly exposed to other people’s blood are at higher risk for contracting the virus.

Getting a tattoo from an unlicensed tattoo artist or facility where needles may not be properly sterilized also increases the risk of transmission.

Prior to 1992, when widespread screening of blood donations for hepatitis C first began, HCV could likely be transmitted via blood transfusions and organ transplants, according to the CDC.

Other factors may increase the risk of contracting HCV. Consider screening if:

  • You have atypical liver function.
  • Any of your sexual partners have received a diagnosis of hepatitis C.
  • You’ve received a diagnosis of HIV.
  • You’ve been incarcerated.
  • You’ve undergone long-term hemodialysis.

Treatment is recommended for everyone who tests positive for hepatitis C, including children ages 3 years and older, as well as adolescents.

Current treatments usually involve about 8–12 weeks of oral therapy, which cures over 90% of people with hepatitis C, causing few side effects.

Since untreated hepatitis C can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, it’s important to get tested if you believe you have come into contact with someone who has hepatitis C or if you have hepatitis C symptoms.

The hepatitis C test results will either be HCV antibody nonreactive or HCV reactive. If it’s HCV reactive, you may be tested again or begin treatment.