Skip to content

Hepatitis Health Center

Hepatitis C (HCV) and Viral Load

Font Size
A
A
A

If you're being treated for hepatitis C virus infection -- also called HCV-- your doctor is keeping track of your viral load.

What is HCV viral load? Why does it matter? WebMD got answers to your most frequently asked questions about hepatitis C and viral load from two experts:

Recommended Related to Hepatitis

Understanding Hepatitis C -- Prevention

Hepatitis C virus can only be transmitted through blood transfer. But exposure to tiny amounts of blood is enough to cause infection. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection. Here are some steps you can take to prevent becoming infected with hepatitis C. Never share needles. Intravenous drug users are at greatest risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C because many share needles. In addition to needles, the virus may be present in other equipment used with illicit drugs...

Read the Understanding Hepatitis C -- Prevention article > >

  • Frank Anania, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of hepatology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
  • Brian L. Pearlman, MD, medical director of the center for hepatitis C at the Atlanta Medical Center, Atlanta; and associate professor, Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

 

What Is HCV Viral Load?

Dr. Pearlman: Viral load is [the number of] viral particles floating in the blood. These are copies of the genetic material of the virus circulating through the body.

Dr. Anania: Viral load is based on technology that lets us measure extremely small quantities of hepatitis C virus RNA, the building block of the virus.

Can I Be Positive for Hepatitis C if I Don't Have any Measurable Viral Load?

Dr. Pearlman: Being "hepatitis C positive" means you have anti-HCV antibodies in your blood. Having HCV antibodies just means you've been exposed to the hepatitis C virus. You can certainly be antibody positive and not have any measurable viral load. One lucky thing this might mean is that you are one of the nearly 20% of people who naturally clear the virus from their bodies. The other possibility is that the virus, during the time blood is drawn, was only temporarily undetectable. HCV viral load in the blood goes up and down, and the test might have caught it on a downswing. So before we tell someone they are negative, we ask them to have the test repeated.

Dr. Anania: After hepatitis C treatment, people still have antibodies to HCV. But if they have no detectable HCV viral load, that indicates recovery from infection -- that is, response to treatment and sustained remission. Over a period of time, if a later viral load test comes back undetectable, that patient is in remission.

What Is a High Viral Load and Low Viral Load?

Dr. Pearlman: Anything over 800,000 IU/mL is usually considered high. Anything under that is low viral load … Those with low viral load have a better chance of responding to treatment.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

Hepatitus C virus
Types, symptoms and treatments.
liver illustration
Myths and facts about this essential organ.
 
woman eating apple
What you need to know.
doctor and patient
What causes it?
 
Hepatitis C Treatment
Article
Syringes and graph illustration
Tool
 
liver illustration
Quiz
passport, pills and vaccine
Slideshow
 
Scientist looking in microscope
Slideshow
Fatty Liver Disease
Article
 
Digestive Diseases Liver Transplantation
Article
Picture Of The Liver
Image Collection