testing for hep c
Testing for hep C involves two types of blood tests.
Tests for hep C are not part of regular blood tests - you have to ask.
They are free for people with a Medicare card.
There are two blood tests used to test for hep C. You need to give your consent for your doctor to do a hep C test. These tests are not included in routine blood tests, so you may need to ask your doctor to test for hep C.
Hep C antibody tests
If you have previously had hep C, including if you have been cured, you will always have hep C antibodies [i][ii]. You do not need to have another antibody test if you have previously tested positive to hep C antibodies.
Having hep C antibodies does not mean you currently have hep C, and the antibodies do not protect you from getting hep C again.
It can take up to 12 weeks from the time hep C enters your blood until your body starts producing hep C antibodies. So, you may need to have another test if you could have caught hep C recently [i].
If you do test positive for hep C antibodies, you will need to have an RNA test. Your doctor may order this at the same time as the antibody test by asking the pathology to clinic to do an RNA test if the antibody test is positive.
Hep c rna test
The RNA test will confirm whether or not you currently have the hep C virus and how much of the virus you have in your blood (your viral load) [iii].
Your doctor will most likely also do a genotype test, which will show what genotype (or strain) of the virus you have. Knowing your genotype can help your doctor to determine which DAA medicines to prescribe for you [iii].
Click on this short video, produced by ASHM, to learn about the meaning of different tests and their results.
How much do the tests cost?
The tests are free through Medicare, however there is a limit to how many tests you can get for free each year. You can only get the RNA test for free if you have tested positive for hep C antibodies. This is why your doctor will do an antibody test first unless you have previously had a positive antibody test result.
You will have to pay the consultation fee unless your doctor bulk bills.
What happens if I have hep C?
It is now very easy to cure hepatitis C with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medicines. 95% of people can be cured in 8-12 weeks with 1-2 tablets per day.
Last review: September 2019
For more information on hep C tests, you can contact the National Hepatitis Info Line on 1800 437 222.
i. Victoria State Government. (2018, September). Hepatitis C. Retrieved from Better Health Channel: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/hepatitis-c/
ii. ASHM. Diagnostic Strategies. Retrieved from HCV Testing Portal: testingportal.ashm.org.au/hcv/diagnostic-strategies
iii. ASHM. (2019, June). Testing for Hep C. Retrieved from Vimeo: vimeo.com/341923881