Get Tested: Rapid Testing Now Available for Hepatitis C

Roni Shye
Roni Shye, PharmD BCGP BCACP, is a licensed pharmacist in the states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
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National Hepatitis Testing Day in the United States was this month, and you might be surprised how easy it is to get tested. Many tests which used to be performed only by doctors and conducted in labs are now available to the public—including the OraQuick HCV rapid antibody test made by OraSure Technologies, Inc. for the hepatitis C Virus. The test is FDA approved for detecting hepatitis C virus antibodies using a finger stick (and a typical blood draw).

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver and causes swelling and inflammation. It is contracted through contact with blood from another person who is infected with the hepatitis C virus.

Most patients with hepatitis C do not show any signs or symptoms of the infection. However, in the later stages of the disease, patients that do have symptoms may have fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, joint pain and yellowing of skin known as jaundice.

Hepatitis C may be self-limiting and last only a few weeks or it can lead to complications such as liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, or liver cancer.

Who is at risk for contracting hepatitis C?

Healthcare professionals can be exposed to the virus from a needle stick or if the blood of a person who has hepatitis C comes into contact with their eyes, mouth, or a cut. Risky behavior such as recreational intravenous drug use and sharing needles with others puts you at a greater or increased risk for contracting hepatitis C than others. Other people at risk for hepatitis C include long-term dialysis patients, anyone who has regular contact with blood products in their workplace, anyone who has had unprotected sexual contact with someone who is infected, infants born to a mother with Hepatitis, patients with HIV, and anyone with abnormal liver tests or liver disease.

Who is the rapid antibody test for?

This test is for anyone who thinks that they may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus regardless of route of transmission.

How accurate is the test?

The OraQuick HCV rapid antibody test is 98% accurate. Make sure to follow-up with your doctor if you receive a positive result. There is a small margin for error and the test could produce false results.

How long does it take to get the test results?

Healthcare providers are able to deliver an accurate results within 20 minutes.

Where can you get the test?

You can’t test yourself at home just yet, but the Oraquick Rapid HCV test is available in a variety of locations, including:

When is National Hepatitis Testing Day?

May 19th has been designated National Hepatitis Testing Day in the United States.

What if I missed the national testing day? Can I still get tested?

If you missed the national testing day on May 19th this year, no fear! It’s never too late to get tested—there are year-round testing events conducted across the nation. Find out more about year-round events here.

If you’d prefer to get tested at your doctor’s office, never hesitate to ask—doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and other healthcare providers are always there to help!

What do you do if your test is negative?

If the result of your rapid antibody test is negative but you feel that you are an at-risk patient, it would be a good idea to follow-up with your doctor for further blood testing. There is always the chance of false-negatives and false-positives with rapid testing, so a follow-up with your doctor is always encouraged and recommended.

What do you do if your test is positive?

If you receive a positive result from your initial hepatitis C screening, you should also follow up with your doctor to confirm the results. Start by explaining that you think you may have been infected with the hepatitis C virus based on a rapid antibody test performed at your local clinic or pharmacy and that you would like to confirm the diagnosis. Your results will then be confirmed by traditional blood testing from your doctor.

A positive test has been confirmed, now what?

Once you’ve had further blood tests and there is a positive confirmation of hepatitis C antibodies, this means that you have been infected with the hepatitis C virus at some point and will always have antibodies in your blood. This is true even if you have cleared the hepatitis C virus on your own or through treatment. Your doctor will talk to you about the various treatments available if needed.

What treatment is available?

Once it has been confirmed that you do have the hepatitis C Virus, your doctor will talk to you about your treatment options. Treatment is dependent upon the genotype (the genetic structure) of the disease. Depending on the genotype you’ve been diagnosed with, the treatment is usually a combination of pegylated interferon, ribavirin, and a protease inhibitor (for one genotype) for as long as 12 months.

Although this has been the gold standard for treatment in the past, two new drugs have recently been approved that may bring some big changes. The two new medications, Sovaldi and Olysio, are taken orally and will hopefully decrease some of the side effects patients experience with pegylated interferon by eliminating it completely from their treatment regimen, or by decreasing the duration of treatment from 48 weeks to 12 – 24 weeks for some patients.

What support is available for anyone diagnosed with hepatitis C?

There are some great websites and organizations that can provide support and answers for anyone newly diagnosed with hepatitis C:

Hepatitis C can lead to complications later in life if it is not detected and treated. Access to testing is now readily available, increasingly accurate, and can even be found at your local pharmacy. With testing, treatment options, and cure rates at an all-time high, it’s time to get tested if you think you or a loved one may have been exposed to the virus.

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