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What is a Hepatitis C Viral Load?

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  • Written By: Dorian Hunter
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2016
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Hepatitis C viral load is a term pertaining to the amount of the hepatitis type C virus present in a given amount of bodily fluid, typically blood. The viral amounts are usually calculated in viral load equivalents per milliliter (eq/ml). If the hepatitis C virus is present, this is called “positive,” while showing no virus present is called “negative.” Positive results are gauged on a progressive scale, with general ratings from “low” to “very high.”

There is no unanimous agreement on what constitutes a low or high reading. A general guideline for hepatitis C viral load, however, is that a reading of 200,000 to 1,000,000 eq/ml is considered low. A reading between 1,000,000 and 5,000,000 eq/ml is considered a medium viral load, while a reading from 5,000,000 to 25,000,000 eq/ml is considered high, and anything above 25,000,000 eq/ml is considered very high. An amount showing less than 100 eq/ml is considered negligible, or hepatitis C negative.

Hepatitis C viral load is mainly determined by two methods, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or a branched-chain deoxyribonucleic acid (bDNA) test. The PCR test is sensitive and can measure minute amounts — less than 100 eq/ml of blood volume — of virus present. The bDNA test measures moderate to very high amounts of virus present in the blood.

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It is important to ask your physician about the particular type of test being administered, because hepatitis C test methods vary and various factors can make viral loads fluctuate. You want to be sure the testing method used is sensitive enough to detect minute traces of the virus. Tests also may have to be repeated to be certain of a hepatitis C positive or negative result.

Hepatitis C is one of six types of hepatitis, a common infection of the liver. The liver is a major bodily organ with many functions, but it is primarily responsible for filtering harmful or toxic substances from the bloodstream. Hepatitis C is caused by a virus and is primarily transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person. It is marked by destruction of liver cells, liver tissue necrosis, and eventual failure of the affected organ, if left untreated.

While treatable, diagnosis of hepatitis C is difficult during the early stages of infection, because most people display few readily observable symptoms. You may be at risk for hepatitis C if you have had blood-to-blood contact with other people, including intravenous drug use or unprotected sexual intercourse. If a hepatitis infection is suspected, initial clinical tests may involve determining the hepatitis C viral load. It is import to know viral load amounts to properly monitor and provide treatment for the disease.

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