According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75% of people infected with hepatitis C don’t even know they have it. In fact, Hepatitis C is one of the sneakiest STDs HealthyMD, Inc. test kits detect. For starters, it can take weeks, months, or even years for symptoms to appear- if they appear at all.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. Hepatitis C (HCV) is a blood-borne virus that attacks the liver and can cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. HCV-related complications are also one of the primary reasons for liver transplants in America.
But given today’s advancements, it’s only natural to want a convenient way to screen for the condition. In that regard, at-home hepatitis C tests are a go-to option for many people wanting to check their status for the virus. But are they accurate?
The short answer is YES – home HCV tests are fairly accurate. In support of this approach, a 2021 guideline released by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended self-testing as a complementary strategy to increase access to HCV testing – especially in countries with limited resources. Nonetheless, we need to keep in mind a few aspects:
Home HCV tests usually look for antibodies to the virus in your blood. These are proteins your body makes when it’s fighting off an infection.
It can take weeks or even months for your body to make enough antibodies for the test to detect them. Hence, if you’ve been recently infected with the hepatitis C virus, you may not get a positive test result – even if you have the virus. This also explains why most home HCV test kits include a disclaimer that you should only use them if you think you’ve been exposed to the virus within the past six months.
If you get a positive result, it means you were infected at some point in your life. It could be anywhere from a few weeks to many years ago. Still, your body may have cleared the virus on its own. In that case, you wouldn’t be contagious and wouldn’t need treatment.
There’s also a small chance you could get a false-negative result – meaning the test says you don’t have hepatitis C when the opposite is the case. This could happen if you fail to follow the directions or if your screen is too soon after exposure to the virus.
Basically, it usually takes 4 to 12 weeks for antibodies to develop in the body after infection, so it’s best to wait at least 12 weeks after possible exposure before getting tested.
If you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C, or if you have symptoms of the disease, talk to your doctor. They can give you a more reliable test – usually a blood test that looks for antibodies and the virus.
Just because you don’t have antibodies to the virus doesn’t mean you’re free from hepatitis C. It’s possible to have the virus and not develop antibodies at all. This is called antibody negative or ‘non-responder.’
If you think you may have been exposed to the virus, talk to your physician. They can give you a blood test that looks for the virus – not just the antibodies. An RNA test can detect the virus even in people who don’t have antibodies.
Thus, your doctor can use the test to screen for an active infection. In so doing, they can also determine if you’re a non-responder and create a treatment plan accordingly. Your physician may also order the test during treatment to assess your progress.
You may wonder which home HCV test is the best in a market full of choices. Unfortunately, we don’t have a clear answer. First off, studies evaluating the accuracy of different kits have often been inconclusive. As a result, it’s hard to know which test is most reliable.
Also, manufacturers constantly develop new and improved versions of their products. As a result, they further complicate matters. That said, if you’re set on using a home HCV test, try to get one from a reputable manufacturer.
While at it, note that tests requiring a blood sample from a finger prick are generally more accurate than those that rely on saliva. Also, ensure to follow all the instructions included with the kit. Failure to do it right means you could get a false-negative result.
Home HCV tests can be a useful screening tool, but they have limitations, as we’ve highlighted. If you’re worried about the implications of a positive result, talk to your doctor to confirm it. And if you think you may have been exposed to the virus, get tested – a fact we can’t help but state one more time. HCV is that serious – and common.
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