At-Home Hepatitis C Test
- Also Known As:
- At-Home HCV Test
- Home Hep C Test
- At-Home anti-HCV Test
Test Quick Guide
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver due to a variety of conditions, including excessive alcohol intake, toxins, some medications, and viral infections. Hepatitis C is a viral infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Most people who have hepatitis C develop a long-lasting illness that will damage the liver if left untreated.
At-home hepatitis C test kits provide the materials to collect a sample of blood and mail it to a laboratory for analysis. At the laboratory, the blood sample is tested to measure hepatitis C antibodies (anti-HCV). Hepatitis C antibodies are formed as the body responds to an HCV infection.
The results of an at-home hepatitis C test can show whether a person has ever been exposed to the hepatitis C virus. HCV antibody test results cannot distinguish between a current infection and one that was cured or resolved in the past. Approximately one-half of the people who test positive do not have a current infection.
Physician-ordered testing is necessary to confirm a hepatitis C infection and determine appropriate treatment. At-home hepatitis C testing is not a substitute for working with a doctor to diagnose, treat, or monitor hepatitis C.
About the Test
Purpose of the test
Hepatitis C antibody tests are used to screen for, diagnose, and monitor a hepatitis C infection.
There are several approaches to testing individuals for hepatitis C antibodies, including physician-ordered testing, rapid tests, and at-home tests which use a self-collected sample that is mailed to a lab. The following information provides details about the purposes of at-home and physician-ordered hepatitis C tests.
Purpose of an at-home hepatitis C test
An at-home hepatitis C test provides the tools to collect a sample of blood and send it to a laboratory for antibody testing. Testing for HCV antibodies can determine if you’ve been infected with hepatitis C at some point in time, but the test results can’t tell the difference between a current infection and a resolved or cured infection.
Testing for hepatitis C antibodies at home often requires physician-ordered follow-up tests that may produce more accurate results. Following up with a doctor is especially important if you have a compromised immune system, if your exposure to HCV was recent, or if you receive positive test results.
Purpose of a physician-ordered hepatitis C test
Doctors order hepatitis C antibody testing to screen for potential exposure to hepatitis C and to diagnose and monitor an HCV infection. Testing is conducted using a blood sample that is drawn in a doctor’s office, laboratory, or hospital.
Unlike at-home testing that is limited to HCV antibody testing, doctors may order an additional test that detects or measures the virus’s genetic material, called RNA. Hepatitis C RNA testing may be ordered by a doctor to confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis C, select the right treatment, and monitor changes in the amount of virus produced in the body over time.
Hepatitis C testing may be ordered by a doctor for several purposes.
Screening for hepatitis C means testing people who don’t have symptoms. Except in areas where hepatitis C is very uncommon, a hepatitis C screening test is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for all adults 18 years or older at least once and all pregnant women for each pregnancy. In addition, people with risk factors such as HIV, sharing drug paraphernalia such as needles, being on long-term hemodialysis, and those people who received blood transfusions or organ transplants prior to 1992 should also be tested.
Diagnosing hepatitis C requires an HCV antibody test and a hepatitis C RNA test. An HCV RNA test is ordered to measure the viral load, which is the amount of the virus’s genetic material in the body. Additional tests can indicate the genotype or specific strain of HCV that caused a person’s infection. A person who was previously but is not currently infected with HCV may test positive on an antibody test but test negative on the molecular RNA test.
Monitoring patients with hepatitis C involves additional testing. After an initial diagnosis, doctors conduct other laboratory tests to evaluate potential liver damage and to determine the right treatment. HCV RNA testing to track changes in the amount of the virus in the blood over time, which can help ensure that treatment is effective.
What does the test measure?
At-home hepatitis C test kits can check a blood sample for HCV antibodies.
After HCV is contracted, the body begins to develop hepatitis C antibodies. HCV antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system and released into the blood in order to combat the hepatitis C virus. A detectable level of antibodies usually develops 8 to 11 weeks after infection and then remains detectable for life, even if the virus has been cured or cleared from the body.
Hepatitis C is diagnosed as acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis C describes the first six months after a person contracts HCV. During this period, the immune system begins to mount a response in order to clear the virus from the body. In a minority of patients with acute hepatitis C, the body can clear the infection without treatment.
Unfortunately, most patients who aren’t treated develop a long-lasting infection called chronic hepatitis C. In chronic hepatitis C, the virus is able to evade the body’s immune response. A diagnosis of chronic hepatitis C is confirmed by detecting both hepatitis C antibodies and HCV RNA six or more months after the initial infection.
When should I get an at-home hepatitis C test?
At-home hepatitis testing is one approach to screening for hepatitis C antibodies. Finding HCV antibodies can help detect hepatitis C before it progresses to severe liver damage. Screening for hepatitis C is recommended for all adults, unless you live in a place where HCV is very uncommon. Additional hepatitis C screening may be recommended in certain situations, including:
- Injectable drug use
- Elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
- Needle-sticks and exposure to HCV-positive blood
At-home hepatitis C testing can provide information about past exposure to HCV. Understanding a positive test result requires a consultation with a doctor and a follow-up HCV RNA test.
Screening for hepatitis C at home should be avoided if you have symptoms of hepatitis or believe you may have been exposed to this virus. In these circumstances, only a doctor can offer guidance about testing that is specific to your needs.
Benefits and Downsides of At-Home Hepatitis C Testing
Before purchasing an at-home hepatitis C test, you may find it helpful to consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of at-home hepatitis C testing.
The benefits of at-home hepatitis C testing include:
- Convenience: Every adult should be screened for hepatitis C at least once. At-home hepatitis C test kits allow you to screen for exposure to this virus without a doctor’s appointment and in situations where there are logistical barriers to physician-ordered testing.
- Price: The price of an at-home hepatitis C test kits usually includes the materials to collect a blood sample and packaging to prepare the sample for laboratory testing. Many test kits even include a pre-paid envelope to mail your test sample to the company’s laboratory without any additional cost.
- Early detection: Finding and treating hepatitis C early is important to reduce the risk of liver damage and cancer. At-home hepatitis testing is a tool to screen for hepatitis C in patients without symptoms of hepatitis. Test results should be shared with a doctor who can discuss next steps to confirm a diagnosis and initiate any appropriate treatment.
The downsides of at-home hepatitis C testing include:
- Requires follow-up: At-home hepatitis C tests only look for HCV antibodies. If HCV antibodies are detected, HCV RNA testing must be ordered by a physician to confirm acute or chronic hepatitis C.
- Misleading results: In some cases, an HCV antibody test may not find evidence of a hepatitis infection even if you have acquired hepatitis C. These misleading test results can occur if testing is conducted before HCV antibodies can be detected, which may be up to 11 weeks after exposure to the virus. Misleading test results may delay the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C.
- Out-of-pocket cost: When hepatitis C testing is ordered by a doctor, the cost may be covered by your health care insurance provider. In contrast, at-home hepatitis C tests typically require paying out-of-pocket. Fortunately, some at-home testing companies allow you to pay for testing with an FSA or HSA account.
Types of At-Home Tests
Several brands of at-home hepatitis C test kits are available. The following tests are some top choices for at-home hepatitis C testing.
Everlywell – Hepatitis C Test
Tests for: Hepatitis C antibodies
Results timeline: Within 5 business days
Everlywell’s Hepatitis C Test includes detailed directions and outreach by an independent physician in the case of positive results, making it our pick for best overall hepatitis C test.
Everlywell protects your privacy by using discreet packaging to ship your test kit. Once the kit arrives, register it on the company’s website and read the detailed directions before using a lancet to draw enough blood from a fingertip to fill a collection card.
After one of Everlywell’s CLIA-certified labs receives your sample, results are typically available within five business days. You can access your results on the company’s online platform. Everlywell uses encryption to secure your information and guarantees to never sell your data.
The company offers support if you need assistance during the testing process. If your test is positive, a doctor will contact you directly to discuss your result and provide information on the next steps.
Best for Privacy
myLAB Box – Hepatitis C At Home Test
Tests for: Hepatitis C antibodies
Results timeline: Within 2 to 5 days
If you’re concerned about the privacy of your test results, consider the Hepatitis C At Home Test from myLAB Box. To protect your confidentiality, test kits are shipped in discreet packaging and HIPAA web security protocols are used to protect your online data.
Results are displayed in a private online account within 2 to 5 days of shipping your sample to a high complexity testing lab. Instructions in the test describe how to obtain a free telemedicine consultation with a physician in your state if your test results are positive.
Best Hepatitis Combination Test
LetsGetChecked – Hepatitis B & C Test
Tests for: Hepatitis C antibodies
Results timeline: Within 2 to 5 days
Our pick for the best hepatitis combination test is the Hepatitis B & C Test from LetsGetChecked. This test saves you time and money by detecting exposure to both hepatitis B and C in the same blood sample. Test kits include free shipping and are available on the LetsGetChecked website.
The Hepatitis B & C Test comes with all the supplies needed to collect a sample of blood and mail it back to the laboratory. Start by washing your hands and wiping them with an alcohol pad, then prick your finger with a lancet. Collect your blood sample in the tube provided and gently invert it several times.
Place your completed sample in the biohazard bag, then back into the test kit, and ship it in a prepaid envelope to LetsGetChecked’s network of laboratories. Test results are generally available within 2 to 5 days on a secure online dashboard.
LetsGetChecked has a team of nurses who are available day and night to respond to questions about the testing process or your test results.
iDNA – Hepatitis C Test
Price: Starting at $78
Tests for: Hepatitis C antibodies
Results timeline: Within 2 to 7 days
Our pick for the most customizable hepatitis C test is made by iDNA. The company lets you select a test for just hepatitis C or purchase Standard or Complete Test Kits that include testing for common sexually transmitted diseases.
The Standard Test Kit tests for seven common infections: chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, syphilis, herpes 2, hepatitis C, and HIV I/II. The Complete Test Kit offers the same tests included in the Standard Test Kit plus tests for HPV, mycoplasma, and ureaplasma. The company’s Custom Test option allows you to choose your own combination of tests, which cost between $78 and $88 per test.
After ordering your test on the iDNA website, standard shipping takes 3 to 5 days. If you’re looking for faster shipping, there are also two-day and overnight options. Return shipping is fast and free with the prepaid shipping envelope included in the test kit.
Once the kit arrives, use the QR code to register it on the company’s website. Read through the instructions on how to collect your sample before using the test kit to gather several drops of blood in the collection device. Other tests may require a urine sample or a vaginal swab.
The company’s CLIA-certified labs use an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) method to detect hepatitis C antibodies in your blood sample. Results are typically available within 2 to 7 days of being received by the lab on iDNA’s secure online platform. If your test results are positive, iDNA offers free confirmation testing.
Interpreting At-Home Test Results
At-home hepatitis C test results indicate whether hepatitis C antibodies were found in the blood sample used for testing.
Negative test results mean that HCV antibodies were not found in your blood sample. This may be because you have not been exposed to HCV, or it may be because the test was performed too soon after exposure. If HCV antibodies are not detected in the blood, no additional testing is needed unless you have a weakened immune system or have been exposed to the virus in the past six months. In these instances a doctor may recommend HCV RNA testing or an additional HCV antibody test at a later time.
Positive test results mean that HCV antibodies were detected in your blood sample. When HCV antibodies are detected on a blood test, it means that you were exposed to HCV at some point in your life. Positive test results may be caused by a current HCV infection that requires treatment or by a past HCV infection that has resolved. Confirmation of a current HCV infection requires a physician-ordered HCV RNA test.
Are test results accurate?
Hepatitis C antibody tests are an important tool to detect and treat hepatitis C before it causes damage in the body. At-home hepatitis C tests are one of several methods to test for HCV antibodies and allow you to collect a blood sample without making an appointment with your doctor.
The accuracy of HCV antibody tests depends on several factors, including the type of test used and the time since you were exposed to the virus. Initial research into at-home test kits suggests that at-home hepatitis C testing may be just as accurate as antibody testing conducted in a hospital as long as the included instructions are strictly followed.
Misleading test results can occur if HCV antibody testing is conducted too early after infection. HCV antibodies may not be detectable for 11 weeks after infection and can remain undetectable for up to 6 months. In patients who are immunocompromised, the development of HCV antibodies may take even longer.
Do I need follow-up tests?
Follow-up testing may be needed after an at-home hepatitis C test, regardless of the test results.
After a negative HCV antibody test, a doctor may recommend testing for HCV antibodies again at a later time if you are immunocompromised or have had recent exposure to the virus. An HCV RNA test may also be used to rule out recent infection.
Positive HCV antibody test results require a follow-up HCV RNA test to confirm a current hepatitis C infection that requires medical care. If treatment is needed, follow-up testing may be ordered to evaluate for liver damage, determine the virus’s genotype, and evaluate your response to treatment.
Unlike other viral infections and types of hepatitis, prior resolution of an HCV infection does not mean that you are immune from future hepatitis C infections. In patients who have recovered from hepatitis C in the past, HCV RNA testing is used to detect a new infection.
Questions for your doctor after at-home testing
Your doctor can help you understand the meaning of your at-home hepatitis C test results and discuss the need for additional testing. Helpful questions for your doctor may include:
- What does my at-home hepatitis C test result mean?
- Do I need follow-up testing to confirm or rule out a hepatitis C infection?
- Should I be tested for hepatitis C again in the future?
- How can I reduce my risk of getting hepatitis C?
At-home hepatitis C testing vs. hepatitis C testing in a medical setting
Screening for hepatitis C antibodies can be conducted using at-home or physician-ordered tests. Finding hepatitis C early is important to slow the spread of hepatitis C and reduce the damage it can cause to the body.
At-home hepatitis C testing allows you to screen for hepatitis C antibodies from the privacy and comfort of your home. Results of at-home hepatitis C testing are best interpreted by a doctor, regardless of your test result.
Physician-ordered testing typically requires a doctor’s appointment. Meeting with your doctor allows you to receive testing that best meets your needs. For example, physician-ordered hepatitis C tests often include reflex testing, which allows the laboratory to immediately conduct follow-up HCV RNA testing on the same blood sample after HCV antibodies are detected.
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