How Hepatitis C Is Diagnosed
To determine a hepatitis C diagnosis, your doctor will:
- Get your medical history .
- Perform a physical exam, especially checking for changes in skin color, swelling in your lower extremities, and tenderness in your abdomen.
- Order certain diagnostic blood tests.
The first diagnostic tool in the screening process is a blood test that screens for HCV antibodies proteins the body produces in response to the virus. An enzyme immunoassay is used to perform this test.
A negative result for the antibody test means that you’ve never had HCV in your blood, while a positive result means you were exposed to the virus at some point in your life. Up to a quarter of people spontaneously clear the virus from their blood within six months of contracting it.
Because EIA sometimes produces false-positive results, a test called recombinant immunoblot assay may be used to confirm that you have the HCV antibody. This test is not necessary for most patients, and it is more commonly performed by blood banks to check for the virus in donated blood.
A negative EIA result may just mean that your body has not yet produced the HCV antibody , and you may need to be tested again in a few months.
If you have a positive antibody test, your doctor will then use another blood sample to conduct a qualitative polymerase chain reaction test or a process called transcription-mediated amplification , which looks for the presence or absence of RNA of HCV in your blood.
Treatments Can Suppress Or Even Wipe Out The Virus
Hepatitis C is treated with a combination of medications called antivirals. For many people, they get rid of the virus completely. They do have serious side effects and they donât work for everyone. New drugs recently approved by the FDA are more effective and have fewer side effects. But some are expensive.
Time For Processing Hcv Ab Test Results
The turnaround time for 3rd-generation EIAs is at least 1 day. Many labs do not perform the tests on site and must send specimens to another lab for processing, which may further increase the turnaround time.
A point-of-care test is also available. The OraQuick® HCV Rapid Antibody Test is an FDA-approved test that can be performed with a fingerstick . It is also a CLIA-waived test and therefore can be used in clinic offices and outreach facilities. Results are reported as reactive or nonreactive within 20 minutes. Just as for the standard HCV Ab test done in the lab, a positive OraQuick® test must be confirmed by an HCV RNA test. The sensitivity and specificity of the test is similar to that of the laboratory-based assays.
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Blood Transfusion Issues And Donor Counseling
Guidelines for donor notification for donors positive for transfusion transmissible infections are outlined in An Action Plan for Blood Safety by National AIDS Control Organization 2004. A blood donor is offered an option to know his TTI status at the time of registration for blood donation after due counseling and give consent for the same.
Notifying donors regarding a single positive screening test is fraught with the risk of causing undue anxiety and stress to a donor. If a screening test is positive, the blood unit should be immediately discarded. Presently there are no guidelines regarding confirming the test results before informing the donor. In case of samples with low S/CO and grey zone samples, a retesting of the donor samples using a different assay would be imperative before notifying the donor. There are clear cut guidelines regarding donor notification and referral for HIV positive blood donors with integrated counseling and testing centers available for the same. Donors who are positive for viral hepatitis markers have to be counseled by blood bank staff. An algorithm for donor counseling for HCV positive donors is outlined in .
Algorithm for donor counseling for HCV positive donors
How To Get Tested
Hepatitis C testing is performed by a doctor. Testing requires a blood sample, which can be collected in a hospital, lab, or other medical setting. Blood is often drawn from a vein in the arm or, in children, taken by pricking the skin. After blood is collected, the sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis.
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The Test Is Quick And Easy
A simple blood test can tell if you’ve ever had the virus. The results usually come back in a few days, but some clinics have rapid versions that can be read in as little as 20 minutes. If it comes back negative, but there’s a chance you were exposed in the last 6 months, get tested again.
If the first results are positive, you had hepatitis C at some point. A second test will check to see if the original case cleared up or became chronic . If it’s chronic, you’ll need to see a doctor who specializes in treating the disease.
When Is It Ordered
The CDC, the Infectious Diseases Society of America , the American Association of the Study of Liver Diseases , and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend screening with an HCV antibody test at least once in your lifetime when you are 18 years old or older . The CDC also recommends HCV screening for women with each pregnancy or for anyone who requests it.
One-time screening is recommended regardless of age if you:
- Have ever injected illegal drugs
- Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992*
- Have received clotting factor concentrates produced before 1987
- Were ever on long-term dialysis
- Are a child born to HCV-positive women
- Have been exposed to the blood of someone with hepatitis C
- Are a healthcare, emergency medicine, or public safety worker who had needlesticks, sharps, or mucosal exposure to HCV-positive blood
- Have evidence of chronic liver disease
- Have HIVabout 21% of those with HIV are also infected with HCV .
*The blood supply has been monitored in the U.S. since 1992, and any units of blood that test positive for HCV are rejected for use in another person. The current risk of HCV infection from transfused blood is about one case per two million transfused units.
Screening at regular intervals is recommended if you have ongoing risk of HCV infection, such as current injection drug use and sharing needles or syringes.
- Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting
- Dark urine
- Yellowing of eyes and skin
An HCV RNA test is ordered when:
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Encouraging Others To Get Tested For Hepatitis C
While the odds of passing on the hepatitis C virus are low, you should still tell anyone at risk that you have hepatitis C. You should tell sexual partners, spouses, and family members. Your infection may be difficult to discuss, but anyone at potential risk must know. That way, they can get tested and treated if needed. Read more on why you should get tested for hepatitis C.
Paul Berk, MD, professor of medicine and emeritus chief of the division of liver disease, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City chairman of the board, American Liver Foundation.
Alan Franciscus, executive director, Hepatitis C Support Project and editor-in-chief of HCV Advocate, San Francisco.
Thelma King Thiel, chair and CEO, Hepatitis Foundation International.
David Thomas, MD, professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore.
Howard J. Worman, MD, associate professor of medicine and anatomy and cell biology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York City.
The American Gastroenterological Association.
What Is Being Tested
Hepatitis C is a virus that causes an infection of the liver that is marked by liver inflammation and damage. Hepatitis C tests are a group of tests that are performed to diagnose hepatitis C infection and to guide and monitor treatment of the infection.
Hepatitis C tests include:
Hepatitis C is one of five viruses identified so far, including A, B, D, and E, that are known to cause hepatitis.
HCV is spread when contaminated blood enters the body, primarily though sharing needles and syringes during IV drug use. HCV is spread less commonly by sharing personal items contaminated with blood , through sex with an infected person, needlestick injuries to healthcare workers, unregulated tattooing, and from mother to baby during pregnancy and childbirth. Before tests for HCV became available in the 1990s, HCV was often transmitted by blood transfusions. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.
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Interpreting Hcv Rna Test Results
It is essential that the provider understands how to interpret HCV RNA test results, especially during the course of HCV treatment.
|Result of HCV RNA Test||Interpretation|
|A quantified viral load — any exact number||Ongoing HCV infection|
|“Detected”||The HCV RNA is detectable but the number of international units is so low that it cannot be quantified accurately. This indicates extremely low level of virus is present.|
|“< 12 IU/mL” or “< 15 IU/mL” or “< 25 IU/mL” All of these are “less than the LLOQ”||HCV RNA is undetectable. No virus is detected at all in the patient’s serum specimen.|
Cdc Recommendations For Hepatitis C Screening Among Adults In The United States
- Universal hepatitis C screening:
- Hepatitis C screening at least once in a lifetime for all adults aged 18 years and older, except in settings where the prevalence of HCV infection is less than 0.1%*
- Hepatitis C screening for all pregnant women during each pregnancy, except in settings where the prevalence of HCV infection is less than 0.1%*
- Any person who requests hepatitis C testing should receive it, regardless of disclosure of risk, because many persons may be reluctant to disclose stigmatizing risks
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Early Treatment Can Help You Prevent Liver Cancer Or Liver Failure
According to the CDC, out of every 100 people with hepatitis C:
- 75-85 will develop chronic liver disease.
- Up to 20 will get cirrhosis, a dangerous scarring of the liver.
- 1-5 will die from liver cancer or liver failure.
Getting tested and treated early can stop the hepatitis C virus from triggering cirrhosis or cancer. Your doctor will be able to keep an eye out for signs of liver trouble. They can start treatment before you serious damage starts.
CDC: “Hepatitis C FAQs for Health Professionals,” “Hepatitis C Fact Sheet,” “Hepatitis C: What to Expect When Getting Tested,” “Living with Chronic Hepatitis C.”
How Can I Tell If I Am Contagious And Can Spread The Infection To Others
If you have detectable HCV RNA in your blood, you have the potential to spread the disease to other people. Hepatitis C is spread by exposure to contaminated blood. The most common mechanism of exposure is the sharing of needles or other ‘works’ used in consuming drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Other routes of transmission include use of contaminated equipment for body piercing and tattooing, occupational exposure of healthcare workers to used needles or other sharp objects, and, less commonly, through sexual activity that results in tissue tears or from mother to baby during childbirth.
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Hepatitis C Screening: Questions For The Doctor
Everyone ages 18 to 79 needs to get tested for hepatitis C at least once. Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus . The most common way to get hepatitis C is by coming into contact with the blood of someone who has it. In the United States, people usually get hepatitis C by sharing needles.
Many people who have hepatitis C live for years without feeling sick. But the virus can still damage your liver even when its not causing any symptoms. You could also spread the virus to others without knowing it.
The only way to know for sure if you have hepatitis C is to get a blood test. Medicine can cure most cases of hepatitis C.
Nat: Detection Of Hcv Rna
Molecular virological techniques play a key role in diagnosis and monitoring of treatment for HCV. Because it is difficult to cultivate the virus in cell culture, molecular techniques were instrumental in first identifying HCV, making it one of the first pathogens to be identified by purely molecular methods. NAT is considered the gold standard for detecting active HCV replication. HCV NAT is extremely useful in establishing the diagnosis of acute HCV infection, since RNA is detectable as early as 1 week after exposure via needle-stick or blood transfusion, and at least 4-6 weeks prior to seroconversion as demonstrated in a number of transmission settings. The diagnosis of HCV infection is established with antibody screening followed by NAT for HCV RNA for confirmation as well as for follow-up of patients on treatment. Viral load assessment at baseline is also critical for determining response kinetics during therapy. enumerates the role of NAT in HCV diagnosis.
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If You Are A Baby Boomer Heres Another Item For Your To Do List: Get Tested For Hepatitis C
As the youngest of its generation turns 50 this year, AARP has declared 2014 the Year of the Boomer.
There are many ways in which boomers contributions to society can be recognized and celebrated. But if you are one of the 77 million Americans born after the Second World War, your special year would take on greater meaning if you were to pause and think about your liver health.
Specifically, the American Liver Foundation is appealing to you to take the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and get tested for hepatitis C.
Why, you may be thinking, are you being asked to do this? The facts speak for themselves: Anyone can get hepatitis C, but baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected.
Of all the people in the United States who have hepatitis C, more than 75 percent were born between 1945 and 1965.
Over all, considering that an estimated 3.2 million people have hepatitis C in the United States, the disease has been described as an unrecognized health crisis.
There are vaccines available for the hepatitis A and B viruses, but no vaccine is available yet to prevent hepatitis C. So testing for hepatitis C is critical to finding and treating the disease at its earliest stages.
Hepatitis C the silent epidemic
The longer the virus goes undetected, the greater a persons risk of developing serious liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Why is the baby boom generation so susceptible?
What does the test involve?
Hep C 123 Program
Screening For Hcv Infection
HCV screening has several potential benefits. By detecting HCV infection early, antiviral treatment can be offered earlier in the course of the disease which is more effective than starting at a later stage. Further, early detection together with counseling and lifestyle modifications may reduce the risk of transmission of HCV infection to other people. The optimal approach to screen for HCV is to test the individuals having risk factors for exposure to the virus. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases recommends screening for HCV for the following individuals:
Recipient of blood or blood components .
Recipient of blood from a HCV-positive donor.
Injection drug user .
Persons with following associated conditions
persons with HIV infection,
persons who have ever been on hemodialysis, and
persons with unexplained abnormal aminotransferase levels.
Children born to HCV-infected mothers.
Healthcare workers after a needle stick injury or mucosal exposure to HCV-positive blood.
Current sexual partners of HCV-infected persons.
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How Does Hepatitis C Spread
The most common way to contract Hepatitis C is through needles . Pregnant women infected with Hepatitis C can spread the virus to their children at the time of birth. Less common ways to spread Hepatitis C include sexual contact, sharing personal care items like razors, and getting body modification procedures, such as tattoos and piercings, in non-sterile environments.
What Is The Treatment For Hcv
There are several drugs that can be used to treat HCV infection. Most commonly, a combination of drugs is used, and new drugs are under development. Before 2000, chronic HCV was curable in only 10% of cases. Now, treatments for HCV can cure over 90% of people with hepatitis C before late complications occur, but even those with advanced liver disease often respond to treatment. This increases the opportunity to intervene early and prevent HCV-associated deaths.
- According to the CDC, recent treatment guidelines recommend monitoring people with acute HCV but only considering treatment if the infection persists longer than 6 months.
- Chronic HCV is usually treated with a combination of drugs.
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