Even after symptoms clear, hepatitis C antibodies remain in your blood and could pose an infection risk to those receiving blood or plasma donations.
Hepatitis C occurs from the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It usually causes mild illness that can last anywhere from a month or two to several years.
Typically, hepatitis C transmits through direct contact with blood containing the virus — such as sharing needles or even diagnostic monitoring materials (such as blood glucose monitors), through birth, when getting tattoos while using nonsterile equipment, and, less commonly, through sexual contact.
While the infection can clear, it’s possible to experience a reinfection. But if you’ve received a diagnosis of hepatitis C, a common question is whether you can donate blood or plasma.
No. If you’ve ever had hepatitis C — even if you no longer have an active infection — you’re ineligible to donate blood or plasma in the United States.
According to the American Red Cross, people who’ve tested positive for hepatitis C antibodies at any point, even if they were asymptomatic while they had the active infection, are no longer eligible to donate blood or plasma. Instead, consider hosting a blood drive or volunteering at a local donation center to provide support.
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Blood and plasma centers use various tests to screen for pathogens that might pose an infection risk for blood donation recipients.
There are two main tests healthcare professionals use to screen for HCV:
- HCV antibody test: This test, sometimes called an anti-HCV test, detects the presence of HCV antibodies. When you experience exposure to the virus, your immune system creates antibodies that target it. A positive result means you’ve experienced exposure to the virus at some point. Usually, the test is the first one healthcare professionals give.
- Nucleic acid testing: This test helps confirm hepatitis B by detecting viral particles. Healthcare professionals perform it when the first test detects antibodies.
If both tests are positive, you’re ineligible to donate plasma.
If your antibody test is positive and your NAT results are negative, you may undergo a third test to detect HCV RNA. If the results of this third test are negative, you may undergo additional antibody testing.
If you don’t have hepatitis C but test positive for antibodies, you may wonder whether this is a false positive result that you can dispute. Keep in mind that plasma donation centers check for exposure, not active infection.
Anti-HCV tests only detect antibodies. The antibodies could be from a previous exposure or infection your body cleared. If you’ve ever experienced an exposure to the virus or had hepatitis C, you can typically continue to test positive for antibodies.
Sometimes, the anti-HCV test may detect antibodies from a different infection. This is partly why plasma and blood centers use multiple tests to screen donor blood.
Again, even if you don’t have an active infection, the presence of HCV antibodies disqualifies you from donating plasma.
Learn more about false positive test results and hepatitis C.
If you’ve ever had hepatitis C, you’re ineligible to donate blood or plasma. This is because your blood usually contains HCV antibodies even if your body clears the infection and you have no symptoms. Following a positive antibody test, you may undergo additional testing to determine whether you have an active infection.