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Testing and diagnosis - Hepatitis C

If you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C, get tested. With early diagnosis and treatment hepatitis C can be cured. Hepatitis C treatment is free.

To get a hepatitis C test, you can:

If you are worried about symptoms of hepatitis C, contact your GP.

Who should get tested for hepatitis C

Hepatitis C often has no symptoms, you may still be infected if you feel healthy.

Get a test for hepatitis C if:

  • you think you have been exposed to the virus at any time
  • your sexual partner has hepatitis C
  • you live with someone with hepatitis C
  • you have any risk factors for hepatitis C infection

It’s important to think about all risks, even things that happened a long time ago.

Who is at risk for hepatitis C

You can become infected with hepatitis C through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. A small amount of blood can cause an infection.

You may be at risk of hepatitis C infection if any of the following apply to you.

Injecting drugs

If you have ever shared:

  • needles or equipment to inject any type of drug, even if you've only injected once
  • equipment to snort or sniff drugs

Unprotected sex

The risk for hepatitis C from sex without using a condom (unprotected sex) is very low. The risk may be higher if blood is present, such as period blood or from minor bleeding during anal sex.

The risk of transmission through sex may be higher among men who are gay, bisexual or other men or transgender people who have sex with men.

The risk is also increased if:

  • there are genital sores or ulcers from a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • either person is living with HIV
  • you take part in chemsex -

If you think you are at risk of an STI and hepatitis C, you can get tests at a sexual health clinic.

Sexual health clinics -

Some medical treatment

You may be at risk if you:

  • received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before October 1991
  • have ever received blood or blood products in another country where blood donations are not tested
  • have ever had medical or dental treatment in another country where hepatitis C is common

Other risk factors

Other risk factors include if you:

  • have a tattoo, especially if you got it in a non-professional setting or in a prison
  • have ever been in prison
  • your birth mother had hepatitis C when you were born
  • are from a country where hepatitis C is common
  • had a needle stick injury and did not have any tests or treatment

If you continue to do high-risk activities, such as injecting drugs, you may need regular testing. Ask your GP about this.

Causes of hepatitis C

Types of hepatitis C test

There are different types of blood test for hepatitis C:

  • antibody test - checks if you have ever been exposed to hepatitis C
  • antigen test - checks if you currently have a hepatitis C infection
  • PCR test - checks if you currently have a hepatitis C infection

Antibody test for hepatitis C

Your body makes antibodies in response to hepatitis C infection. This test detects hepatitis C antibodies. It can take up to 3 months for antibodies to show in your blood if you are exposed to the hepatitis C virus.

After an infection with hepatitis C, you will always have antibodies in your blood.

You can order a free antibody test to do at home.

Antibody negative result

If you have never been exposed to hepatitis C, the test result will show ‘antibody negative’. You will probably not need any further tests.

But your GP may recommend testing again or another type of test if you:

  • have symptoms of acute hepatitis C
  • may have been exposed to hepatitis C recently
Indeterminate result

A test sample may not always give a clear result. This is called an indeterminate result.

If you get this result, you will need to do another test.

Antibody reactive result

If you have ever been exposed to hepatitis C, the test result will show ‘antibody reactive’.

This test result means you were exposed to hepatitis C and either:

  • your body cleared it without treatment and you do not have the virus anymore, or
  • you have a current infection and can pass the virus on to other people

To check if you still have an infection you need to have another test.

This could be:

  • an antigen blood test
  • a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) blood test

Antigen test for hepatitis C

This test detects the hepatitis C core antigen. It can usually be found in the blood 2 weeks after infection.

If the hepatitis C core antigen is found in your blood, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan and tests for liver damage.

PCR test for hepatitis C

This test detects genetic material for hepatitis C. It checks if the hepatitis C virus is still present and reproducing inside your body.

If the virus is found in your blood, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan and tests for liver damage.

Hepatitis C treatment

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 8 February 2023
Next review due: 8 February 2026