The hepatitis viruses carry markers called antigens. The different viruses have different antigens.
These antigens can be on the outside of the virus (surface or envelope antigens). Or inside the virus (core antigens).
For some types of viral hepatitis you will have tests that look for these antigens in your blood.
The main aim of your immune system is to find and kill things in your body that should not be there.
If your immune system finds an antigen that is not from your own body it will start to make antibodies. These antibodies stick to the virus antigen and act like a red flag. They call in other parts of your immune system to get rid of the virus.
It can take around two weeks for your body to make enough antibodies for the test to find. So antibody tests do not work well if you have only just picked up the virus.
If you get rid of the hepatitis virus, you will still have antibodies in your blood. They are there to keep a look out in case the virus comes back again.
For some types of hepatitis this means that an antibody test can be positive even if the virus has gone. For other types of hepatitis the antibodies change after the virus has gone. So they will no longer show up on the test. You can find out more about antibody tests for each type of viral hepatitis on its condition page [link hep landing].
If you are immunosuppressed and your immune system is not working properly you might not make antibodies. In this case the antibody test will not work and you should have a different type of test instead. Usually an RNA or DNA test.
DNA, RNA and PCR tests
All viruses contain some genetic material. This is either called DNA or RNA. This genetic material is a set of instructions used to make more viruses.
You might have a test that looks for viral DNA or RNA in your blood. These tests are sometimes called PCR tests because a PCR machine is used to test the samples. PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction.
Virus DNA or RNA will only be in your blood if the virus is there. And it is actively making copies of itself.
If you have got rid of the virus, or if it is well controlled and not making new copies, then this test will be negative.
Find out more about the different types of viral hepatitis.Find out more
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