FAQS

What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have this disease. HCV is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person.
What blood tests are available to check for hepatitis C?

There are several blood tests that can be done to determine if you have been infected with HCV. Your doctor may order just one or a combination of these tests. The following are the types of tests your doctor may order and the purpose for each:

Anti-HCV (antibody to HCV) Anti-HCV does not tell whether the infection is new (acute), chronic (long-term) or is no longer present. Qualitative tests to detect presence or absence of virus (HCV RNA) Generic polymerase chain reaction (PCR)

Can you have a "false positive" anti-HCV test result?
Yes. A false positive test means the test looks as if it is positive, but it is really negative. This happens more often in persons who have a low risk for the disease for which they are being tested. For example, false positive anti-HCV tests happen more often in persons such as blood donors who are at low risk for hepatitis C. Therefore, it is important to confirm a positive anti-HCV test with a supplemental test as most false positive anti-HCV tests are reported as negative on supplemental testing.
Can you have a "false negative" anti-HCV test result?
Yes. Persons with early infection may not as yet have developed antibody levels high enough that the test can measure. In addition, some persons may lack the (immune) response necessary for the test to work well. In these persons, research-based tests such as PCR may be considered.
How long after exposure to HCV does it take to test positive for anti-HCV?
Anti-HCV can be found in 7 out of 10 persons when symptoms begin and in about 9 out of 10 persons within 3 months after symptoms begin. However, it is important to note that many persons who have hepatitis C have no symptoms.
How long after exposure to HCV does it take to test positive with PCR?
It is possible to find HCV within 1 to 2 weeks after being infected with the virus.
Who should get tested for hepatitis C?
What is the next step if you have a confirmed positive anti-HCV test?
Measure the level of ALT (alanine aminotransferase, a liver enzyme) in the blood. An elevated ALT indicates inflammation of the liver and you should be checked further for chronic (long-term) liver disease and possible treatment. The evaluation should be done by a healthcare professional familiar with chronic hepatitis C.
Can you have a normal liver enzyme (e.g., ALT) level and still have chronic hepatitis C?
Yes. It is common for persons with chronic hepatitis C to have a liver enzyme level that goes up and down, with periodic returns to normal or near normal. Some persons have a liver enzyme level that is normal for over a year but they still have chronic liver disease. If the liver enzyme level is normal, persons should have their enzyme level re-checked several times over a 6 to 12 month period. If the liver enzyme level remains normal, your doctor may check it less frequently, such as once a year.
How could a person have gotten hepatitis C?
HCV is spread primarily by direct contact with human blood. For example, you may have gotten infected with HCV if:
Is there any evidence that HCV has been spread during medical or dental procedures done in the United States?
Medical and dental procedures done in most settings in the United States do not pose a risk for the spread of HCV. There have, however, been some reports that HCV has been spread between patients in hemodialysis units where supplies or equipment may have been shared between patients.
Can HCV be spread by sexual activity?
Yes, but this does not occur very often. See section on counseling for more information on hepatitis C and sexual activity.
Can HCV be spread by oral sex?
There is no evidence that HCV has been spread by oral sex. See section on counseling for more information on hepatitis C and sexual activity.
Can HCV be spread within a household?
Yes, but this does not occur very often. If HCV is spread within a household, it is most likely due to direct exposure to the blood of an infected household member.
Since more advanced tests have been developed for use in blood banks, what is the chance now that a person can get HCV infection from transfused blood or blood products?
1 chance out of 100,000, per each transfused unit.
Should pregnant women be routinely tested for anti-HCV?
No. Pregnant women have no greater risk of being infected with HCV then non-pregnant women. If pregnant women have risk factors for hepatitis C, they should be tested for anti-HCV.
What is the risk that HCV infected women will spread HCV to their newborn infants?
About 5 out of every 100 infants born to HCV infected women become infected. This occurs at the time of birth, and there is no treatment that can prevent this from happening. Most infants infected with HCV at the time of birth have no symptoms and do well during childhood. More studies are needed to find out if these children will have problems from the infection as they grow older. There are no licensed treatments or guidelines for the treatment of infants or children infected with HCV. Children with elevated ALT (liver enzyme) levels should be referred for evaluation to a specialist familiar with the management of children with HCV-related disease.
Should a woman with hepatitis C be advised against breast-feeding?
No. There is no evidence that breast-feeding spreads HCV. HCV-positive mothers should consider abstaining from breast-feeding if their nipples are cracked or bleeding.
When should babies born to mothers with hepatitis C be tested to see if they were infected at birth?
Children should not be tested for anti-HCV before 12 months of age as anti-HCV from the mother may last until this age. If testing is desired prior to 12 months of age, PCR could be performed at or after an infant's first well-child visit at age 1-2 months.
How can persons infected with HCV prevent spreading HCV to others?
How can a person protect themselves from getting hepatitis C and other diseases spread by contact with human blood?
Should patients with hepatitis C change their sexual practices if they have only one long-term steady sex partner?
No. There is a very low chance of spreading HCV to that partner through sexual activity. If you want to lower the small chance of spreading HCV to your sex partner, you may decide to use barrier precautions such as latex condoms. Ask your doctor about having your sex partner tested.
What can persons with HCV infection do to protect their liver?
What other information should patients with hepatitis C be aware of?
Should persons with chronic hepatitis C be vaccinated against hepatitis B?
If persons are in risk groups for whom hepatitis B vaccine is recommended, they should be vaccinated. A Comprehensive Strategy for Eliminating Transmission in the United States Through Universal Childhood Vaccination)
What are the chances of persons with HCV infection developing long term infection, chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, liver cancer, or dying as a result of hepatitis C?
Of every 100 persons infected with HCV about:
Do medical conditions outside the liver occur in persons with chronic hepatitis C?
A small percentage of persons with chronic hepatitis C develop medical conditions outside the liver (this is called extrahepatic). These conditions are thought to occur due to the body's natural immune system fighting against itself. Such conditions include: glomerulonephritis, essential mixed cryoglobulinemia, and porphyria cutanea tarda.
Why do most persons remain infected?
Persons infected with HCV mount an antibody response to parts of the virus, but changes in the virus during infection result in changes that are not recognized by preexisting antibodies. This appears to be how the virus establishes and maintains long-lasting infection..
Should HCV-infected healthcare workers be restricted in their work?
No, there are no recommendations to restrict a healthcare worker who is infected with HCV. The risk of transmission from an infected healthcare worker to a patient appears to be very low. As recommended for all healthcare workers, those who are HCV positive should follow strict aseptic technique and standard precautions, including appropriate use of hand washing, protective barriers, and care in the use and disposal of needles and other sharp instruments.