To find out if you have hep C you may need to have two different blood tests.
The first test is called the hep C antibody test.
This test shows whether or not you have ever been exposed to the hep C virus. A hep C antibody test does not show whether or not you are living with hep C.
This is because this test does not look for the hep C virus itself, it looks for the antibodies that your body produces after you have been exposed to the hep C virus.
Everyone who is exposed to hep C has an initial 6-month infection where their body tries to get rid of it. This is called the acute phase of infection. Your body produces antibodies – part of your immune system – and hep C antibodies can generally be detected three months after you have been exposed to hep C.
One in four people who are exposed to the hep C virus will clear the virus naturally within the first six months. Even if you clear the virus, you will still have the hep C antibodies your body produced in response to the virus.
Hep C antibodies are completely different to hep C virus and hep C antibodies cannot pass the virus on. Hep C antibodies do not provide any protection against the hep C virus and you can get hep C more than once.
The second test is called a PCR detection test
If you take a hep C antibody test and the result is positive (hep C antibodies are detected) then you’ll need to have a second test to find out if you are living with hep C or if your body has cleared the virus.
This is called a PCR detection test. It is sometimes called a qualitative or RNA test. This test shows whether or not there is hep C virus in your blood.
If you take a PCR detection test and the result is positive (hep C virus is detected) then that means you are living with hep C. If you have had the virus for more than six months then this means you have chronic (life-long) hep C. There is treatment that can cure chronic hep C.
In Australia people are entitled to one free PCR detection test per year via Medicare if they have already had a positive hep C antibody test.
This page was last updated 23 May 2016.