Diagnosis of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis (that is infection in the liver) is suspected based on medical history, signs and symptoms, and physical examination. If you have symptoms suggestive of liver infection your doctor will recommend tests to diagnose the cause of infection (as signs and symptoms of most common cause of hepatitis are similar).
Diagnosis of hepatitis C is confirmed based on two blood tests:
- the antibody test, and
- the PCR test.
The antibody test: A person exposed to hepatitis C virus develops antibodies to it. Antibodies are produced by the immune system to fight invading particles, such as bacteria or viruses, when they enter your bloodstream. In this blood test it is checked if you have ever been exposed to the hepatitis C virus by testing for the presence of antibodies to the virus in your blood. The test becomes positive a few months after infection. In the initial few months the test is negative as the body takes time to make these antibodies. In case the antibody test is negative but you have had symptoms, or have history of exposure to hepatitis C, you may be advised to get tested again. Presence of antibodies—that is a positive test indicates that you have been infected with the virus at some stage. It does not mean that you are currently infected, as the virus may have been cleared from your body.
The PCR test: This is the definitive test to determine if you are currently infected with hepatitis C virus. In this test sample from blood is tested to check if the virus is still present. It is done by detecting whether it is multiplying inside your body. If the test is reported as positive (often reported as 'detectable' or 'detected') then it means that your body has not fought off the virus, and the infection has progressed to a chronic (long-term) stage.
Screening for hepatitis C: This is recommended in people who have a high risk of coming in contact with the virus. It is useful as it helps early start of treatment or adopt lifestyle changes that may slow liver damage. Screening for hepatitis C infection is recommended as it often begins damaging the liver before it causes signs and symptoms.
Screening is recommended in the following groups:
- people have ever injected illicit drugs.
- people who have unexplained, abnormal liver function tests.
- babies born to mothers with hepatitis C.
- health care professionals who have been exposed to blood or accidental needle sticks.
- people with hemophilia who received clotting factors before 1987.
- people who have undergone long-term hemodialysis treatments.
- people who were given blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992.
- sexual partners of a person diagnosed with hepatitis c infection.
Source: Expert Content Jan 17, 2013
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