Screening of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is liver inflammation that results from a viral infection, which can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis C, leading to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2016 fact sheet, hepatitis C is prevalent worldwide, with 130–150 million cases at current estimates. Furthermore, hepatitis C results in 700,000 deaths each year.

Importance of hepatitis C screening

Hepatitis C screening is important mainly for two reasons. Firstly, it is prevalent, especially in certain geographical areas and some at risk population. Also, hepatitis C can progress silently with minimal symptoms for some time.

Acute hepatitis C is considered the first stage of hepatitis C which may lead to chronic hepatitis if not treated. The major differences between the two types of hepatitis C are:

  1. Acute hepatitis C is generally considered asymptomatic. Therefore, patients don’t know that they are infected unless the disease has progressed, causing serious complications such as cirrhosis, where the chances of successful treatment are lower.
  2. Acute hepatitis C tends to last less than 6 months; while chronic hepatitis C goes on for a lifetime.

Hepatitis C screening tests

There are 4 screening tests for hepatitis C, including:

Hepatitis C antibody test

If you’re suspected to have hepatitis C, your doctor may ask you to undergo the hepatitis C antibody test, which reveals whether your blood contains hepatitis C antibodies. Detection of such antibodies confirms that you have had hepatitis C at some stage of your life. However, the hepatitis C antibody test doesn’t show if you’re currently infected with hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C qualitative test (PCR test)

Once the hepatitis C antibody test shows a positive result, your doctor will ask you to undergo the hepatitis C RNA qualitative test (PCR test), which is more specific, as it depends on the detection of the nucleic acids of hepatitis C virus in blood. Therefore, the PCR test enables your doctor to know if you currently have hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C quantitative test (viral load)

While you are on hepatitis C treatment, you’ll need to know whether the treatment is working. To ascertain this, your doctor may have to perform the hepatitis C quantitative test, which will shows the quantity of the hepatitis C virus present in your blood before and after the treatment.

Hepatitis C Genotyping

For treatment of hepatitis C, it will be useful to identify the specific genotype of hepatitis C. There are 6 distinct genotypes (genotype 1 to 6), which are useful in prescribing treatment. For example, genotype 2 and 3 are more likely to respond to treatment, compared to genotype 1.

Liver biopsy test

The liver biopsy test gauges a variety of important markers, such as:

  • Severity of the disease
  • Determination of the proper treatment
  • Effectiveness of the treatment

Who needs hepatitis C screening test?

As blood is the most contagious route of hepatitis C transmission, there are generally five categories of people who need to undergo a screening tests for hepatitis C. These categories include:

  1. Patients who frequently perform hemodialysis
  2. Blood transfusion, especially if the donor is infected by hepatitis C virus.
  3. Children of a hepatitis C-infected mother
  4. People who were born around 1945-1965
  5. People who have abnormally high alanine aminotransferase levels (ALT).

Conclusion: Hepatitis C infection is treatable with the latest medication, with cure rates in excess of 90%. Hepatitis C treatment can help avoid the development of liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.