What Is HCV Positive? Symptoms and Causes

Medically Reviewed on 3/16/2022
Hepatitis C (HCV)
HCV positive (reactive) is an interpretation of the results of the HCV antibody test that may mean the following.

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a more serious, long-term illness.

To test whether you have been infected with HCV, your blood sample is tested for the presence of antibodies against HCV. These antibodies generally take 8 to 11 weeks to be detectable after exposure to HCV.

HCV positive (reactive) is an interpretation of the results of the HCV antibody test that may mean the following:

  • The person is infected with HCV at some point in time.
  • It does not necessarily mean hepatitis C is current. Hence, a follow-up screening test is required.
  • Once a person is infected, they will carry the antibodies for the rest of their life although they have been cured or recovered or maybe the virus is still present in the blood.

If the antibody test is reactive or positive, the doctor may recommend an additional test to see if the person currently has hepatitis C. The test is called nucleic acid test or polymerase chain reaction test that detects HCV RNA, which can be interpreted as follows:

  • Negative: This shows a past infection with HCV, and the virus is no longer present in the body because the person is cured of the infection naturally.
  • Positive: This shows the infection is current, and the virus is present in the body that can be spread to others.

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver that leads to decreased liver function and potential damage to the liver.

Although hepatitis can be caused by heavy alcohol consumption, toxins, certain medical conditions, and some medications, the most common cause of hepatitis is a viral infection due to hepatitis A, B, and C virus.

Two types of hepatitis C include:

  1. Acute: It is a new or recent infection within six months of initial exposure to the virus. For some people, acute may turn into a chronic infection.
  2. Chronic: If left untreated, hepatitis can turn into a lifelong infection, leading to serious health issues including cirrhosis (scarring and hardening of the liver), liver damage, liver cancer, liver failure, and even death.

2 symptoms of hepatitis C

Two symptoms of hepatitis C include:

  1. Acute hepatitis C:
  2. Chronic hepatitis C:
    • Many people with chronic hepatic C may not present with any symptoms other than generalized fatigue, loss of weight, and depression, whereas after a few decades, they may gradually develop chronic and fatal liver disease, often leading to:


What Is Viral Hepatitis? How You Catch Hepatitis A, B, and C See Slideshow

What causes hepatitis C?

A person may get infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) through exposure to contaminated body fluids such as blood and semen of an infected person.

Modes of transmission may include:

  • Sharing or using infected needles for medications, drugs, piercings, and tattoos
  • Unprotected sex with the infected person
  • Getting treated with unsterile or infected surgical instruments
  • Sharing daily routine items (containing body fluids) such as toothbrushes, nail cutters, razors, or piercing jewelry
  • Blood transfusions and organ transplants
  • Being born to an infected pregnant female

HCV does not spread by:

  • Hugging, shaking hands, or touching
  • Cheek or lip kissing
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Consuming food prepared or touched by an infected person
  • Breastfeeding (women with bleeding or cracked nipples, however, should temporarily stop breastfeeding till their nipples completely heal)
  • Sharing utensils such as spoons or forks
  • Mosquito bites

Who are at a risk of hepatitis C infection?

People who are at risk of hepatitis C include:

  • People who have unprotected sex
  • People who are diagnosed with other sexually transmitted diseases
  • Children born to infected women
  • Health-care providers
  • People who tend to share needles and syringes
  • People who live in high-risk countries
  • Vulnerable people who live in prisons and old age homes
  • People on dialysis and those with persistently abnormal alanine aminotransferase levels (an enzyme found within the liver cells)
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who are tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus
  • People who have multiple sex partners

A person can get reinfected with HCV even if they have been successfully treated and cured. Thus, it is recommended that people who inject and share needles, syringes, or other types of equipment, along with those who receive maintenance hemodialysis, should be screened for hepatitis C regularly.

4 ways to diagnose hepatitis C

Four ways to diagnose hepatitis C virus (HCV) include:

  1. Blood examination: Blood tests may include
    • HCV antibody test: This test screens antibodies (proteins released into the bloodstream by the immune system of someone infected with hepatitis C virus [HCV]) against HCV.
    • Liver function test: It is the measurement of proteins and enzymes that usually rise seven to eight weeks after the infection.
  2. HCV RNA: This test detects the genetic material of the virus and helps diagnose the presence of active infection.
  3. Abdominal ultrasonography: An ultrasound shows the size, shape, and blood flow to the liver.
  4. Liver biopsy: Liver tissue sample is removed through a small incision and analyzed under the microscope.

Is hepatitis C serious?

Hepatitis C can begin as a short-term infection, but in some people, the virus may remain in the body and cause chronic (long-term) infection.

Almost half of the people infected with the hepatitis C virus may develop a chronic infection that can turn into a serious and long-term health problem, leading to cirrhosis, permanent liver damage, liver cancer, and death.

How is hepatitis C treated?

Many people infected with hepatitis C virus clear it from their bodies without any treatment, whereas some may require treatment and lifestyle modifications including:

  • Avoid alcohol consumption
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Adequate rest
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Direct-acting antivirals (interferon, peginterferon, and ribavirin are considered the primary treatment of hepatitis C)

Can hepatitis C be prevented?

Currently, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but it is recommended to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.

Other precautionary measures recommended by the World Health Organization include:

  • Safe sex through the use of a latex condom
  • Safe and sterile needles and injections
  • Hygienic practices at tattoo making and piercing shops
  • Screening before blood donations
  • Not sharing personal items such as razors and toothbrush

Complications of hepatitis C

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Medically Reviewed on 3/16/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Melinda Ratini Hepatitis C and the Hep C Virus WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/digestive-diseases-hepatitis-c

Hepatitis C National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/viral-hepatitis/hepatitis-c

Hepatitis C World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-c

Hepatitis C Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm