Screening for hepatitis C

Health officials recommend that anyone at high risk of exposure to HCV get a blood test to screen for hepatitis C infection. People who may want to talk to their doctors about screening for hepatitis C include:

  • Anyone who has ever injected or inhaled illicit drugs
  • Anyone who has abnormal liver function test results with no identified cause
  • Babies born to mothers with hepatitis C
  • Health care and emergency workers who have been exposed to blood or accidental needle sticks
  • People with hemophilia who were treated with clotting factors before 1987
  • People who have ever undergone long-term hemodialysis treatments
  • People who received blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
  • Sexual partners of anyone diagnosed with hepatitis C infection
  • People with HIV infection
  • Anyone born from 1945 to 1965
  • Anyone who has been in prison

Other blood tests

If an initial blood test shows that you have hepatitis C, additional blood tests will:

  • Measure the quantity of the hepatitis C virus in your blood (viral load)
  • Identify the genotype of the virus

Tests for liver damage

Doctors typically use one or more of the following tests to assess liver damage in chronic hepatitis C.

  • Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE). A noninvasive alternative to a liver biopsy (see below), MRE combines magnetic resonance imaging technology with patterns formed by sound waves bouncing off the liver to create a visual map showing gradients of stiffness throughout the liver. Stiff liver tissue indicates the presence of fibrosis, or scarring of the liver, as a result of chronic hepatitis C.
  • Transient elastography. Another noninvasive test, transient elastography is a type of ultrasound that transmits vibrations into the liver and measures the speed of their dispersal through liver tissue to estimate its stiffness.
  • Liver biopsy. Typically done using ultrasound guidance, this test involves inserting a thin needle through the abdominal wall to remove a small sample of liver tissue for laboratory testing.