for Veterans and the Public
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What does it mean when different types of blood tests for hepatitis C give different results?
The first test your doctor probably will perform is called an "antibody" (or anti-HCV) test. A positive result means that you were exposed to the hepatitis C virus at some point in your life.
If the result is positive, your doctor will perform a second test called hepatitis C virus RNA (or HCV RNA) to see if the virus is still in your body. If the RNA test result is positive, then you have chronic hepatitis C infection.
So what does it mean if you have a positive result for the first test but a negative result for the second?
- The most likely explanation is that you were infected with hepatitis C but your own immune system fought off the virus. This means you do not have chronic hepatitis C infection, and are not at risk of any medical problems related to hepatitis C.
- The second possible explanation is that you were infected with hepatitis C but the amount of virus in your body is too small to be detected by the standard test. In this case, you need a special test, known as "HCV RNA qualitative," which can detect the virus at very low levels. If this result is positive, then you have chronic hepatitis C infection, but with very low levels of virus. If the result is negative, then you are not infected.
- The third possible explanation is that your first test results (from the HCV antibody test) are incorrect, and you weren't infected with hepatitis C in the first place. This error doesn't happen very often, but it's possible. In this situation, you may need a third kind of test, called HCV RIBA test. A negative result means you were never infected with hepatitis C. A positive result means you were infected and your original test was indeed accurate.