Diagnosis

To diagnose hepatitis B the blood needs to be checked for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg).  The HBs antigen is a part of the virus and will usually appear in your blood six to twelve weeks after infection.  If the test is positive, you have hepatitis B. In that case, your doctor should conduct further tests to check if your hepatitis B infection is new or old, if it is harming your body or not, and if you need treatment or not. If you have naturally cleared the virus, or if you have been vaccinated against hepatitis B, you will have antibodies to hepatitis B (anti-HBs). Your body made these to destroy the virus. If you have anti-HBs you are protected against future infection by the hepatitis B virus.

For hepatitis C, your doctor will first check for hepatitis C antibodies (anti-HCV). If the test is positive, this means you either have the virus now, or have had the virus and cleared it. Hepatitis C antibodies usually take seven to nine weeks to appear in your blood after infection. If your immune system is weakened (e.g. by HIV) your body may take longer to produce hepatitis C antibodies or it may not produce any at all. If the first test is positive, your doctor will then test for the virus itself (hepatitis C RNA). If this is positive, you have hepatitis C.

If you are diagnosed with hepatitis B or C you will face many challenges, but it is better to confront the disease head on, know how to avoid transmitting the infection to others and consider your treatment options and self-management strategies as early as possible.

For further information about whether you might be, or have been, at risk and how you can get tested, please contact your local patient group, who will be able to provide you with the information that you need.