The HCV RNA by PCR test can be useful in the diagnosis of acute HCV infection. HCV RNA is detectable before antibodies to hepatitis C are detectable. These tests can be used as an alternative to waiting 3 months from the exposure to be tested.
Anxious patients and patients with strong reason to suspect infection may wish to test immediately. Healthcare workers who experience a needle stick may decide to do an RNA by PCR test rather than waiting 3 months for the antibody test. In addition, HCV RNA testing can be used to help clarify confusing or inconclusive antibody test results.