What you need to know about the new hepatitis C test

A collection of bloodwork vials.

In June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first-ever point-of-care test to diagnose hepatitis C infection in adults. The Cepheid Xpert HCV test, which uses a fingertip blood sample, will make testing for hepatitis C—a leading cause of liver cancer—more accessible and faster for millions of people in the U.S. Here’s what you need to know about the test.

What is different about this test?

This test allows a person to be tested and diagnosed within an hour, and if they test positive for hepatitis C virus RNA, connected to care and treatment during the same visit. Previously, hepatitis C testing often required follow-up appointments and additional testing, leading to missed appointments, diagnoses and treatments. The new faster test will be especially helpful for underserved and at-risk communities, particularly in rural areas where people may have to travel far for medical appointments.

Who should receive the test?

This test is meant for adults with signs or symptoms of, or at risk for hepatitis C. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends every adult ages 18–79 be tested for hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime, as well as when pregnant.

Where can I get the test?

The test will be available at places with a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) Certificate of Waiver, which include certain substance use disorder treatment facilities, correctional facilities, syringe service programs, doctor’s offices, emergency departments and urgent care clinics.

What is the link between hepatitis C and cancer?

Approximately 50% of all liver cancer cases in the U.S. are thought to be related to the hepatitis C virus. While there is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, most people who contract the virus don’t know they have it and don’t receive the curative treatment that can prevent liver cancer.

Who is at risk for hepatitis C? 

Hepatitis C infection usually spreads through contact with the blood of a person infected with the virus. You are at increased risk for hepatitis C infection if you:

  • Are exposed to blood through your job.
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • Have injected recreational drugs and shared needles.
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992 (when blood and organs started being screened for hepatitis C).
  • Have had a tattoo or body piercing done without proper infection control (such as with unsterile equipment).
  • Were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
  • Are Black.
  • Are on long-term hemodialysis.
  • Are infected with HIV.
  • Have had sex without a condom with someone who is infected.
  • Were assigned male at birth and have sex with others assigned male at birth.
  • Were born to someone who had hepatitis C while pregnant.

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C?

Most people with short-term hepatitis C don’t experience symptoms or only have mild symptoms. Most people with chronic hepatitis C don’t have symptoms, or may show symptoms of chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis (liver scarring) or liver cancer.

Talk to a health care provider if you are experiencing:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored or pale stools
  • Abdominal pain (especially in the right upper abdomen)
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Itching
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice) or white part of eyes (sclera)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting

To learn more about the link between hepatitis C and liver cancer, visit https://preventcancer.org/viruses-and-cancer/.