Screening of 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Patients who frequently perform hemodialysis
- Blood transfusion, especially if the donor is infected by hepatitis C virus.
- Children of a hepatitis C-infected mother
- People who were born around 1945-1965
- 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.