What tests confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis C?
According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, an anti-HCV test detects the presence of antibodies to the virus, but it can’t tell the difference between an active or previous HCV infection. Further complicating the picture is the fact that a “weakly positive” result may actually be a false positive. To confirm a weakly positive result, a HCV RIBA test should be ordered to distinguish true exposure from a false alarm. It’s not perfect either, however, and occasionally will result in an “indeterminate” RIBA. And, as with the anti-HCV test, the RIBA test can’t differentiate between a current or past infection. In such cases, further testing may be necessary. A positive result may signal the need to biopsy the liver, to assess the amount of damage.

How is hepatitis C treated?
While there is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C virus, people with hepatitis C are recommended to get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B. In May 2011 the US Food and Drug Administration approved two additional drugs—telaprevir (Incivek) and boceprevir (Victrelis)—to improve the cure rates of patients with HCV genotype 1, which is the most common form of hepatitis C in the US. These new drugs, known as direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), are intended only for use with pegylated interferon (Pegasys) and ribavirin (Copegus), the current combination used to treat hepatitis C. The new DAAs, if not used properly, can actually cause increased resistance to HCV, making the virus much more difficult to treat later on. The DAAs also have more side effects than the standard interferon/ribavirin combination and thus will require greater monitoring and skill on the part of prescribers. According to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, telaprevir and boceprevir are the first of a “wave” of new drugs for hepatitis C that will reach the market in coming years.

Further information
Hepatitis C Information for Health Professionals: www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/index.htm
American Liver Foundation—Hepatitis C: www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/hepatitisc/
World Health Organization—Hepatitis C: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs164/en/index.html
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/living/cd-hepatitisc.shtml

Last Reviewed: June 2013