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New Test Will Make Hepatitis C Diagnosis Easier

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If the screening test comes back positive, it is time to look more closely, he says. That is the stage when AMPLICOR can be useful. "We need to discover who has active infection," he says.

Active infection means that the blood has hundreds of thousands of copies of the virus, a condition called viremia, says Fried. The new test, which uses polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, technology, isolates the amount of HCV ribonucleic acid -- the genetic building blocks of the virus -- in the blood. "This test gives us a simple yes-no answer," says Fried.

Getting that answer then determines who should be given the powerful drugs used to treat HCV.

The drug therapy, a combination of interferon and ribavarin, is highly toxic and causes symptoms ranging from nausea, exhaustion and headaches to severe depression. Patients are typically put on the drug regimen for a year. Fried says that the new test can also be used to "monitor response to drug therapy."

People who have the HCV antibody but don't have active infection don't require drug therapy, says Fried.

Fried says that liver disease specialists are already using PCR technology to test for viral load in HCV patients but those tests "were not standardized and not reproducible." He says the new test is "more sensitive that other tests" and because it expresses findings in international units, or IU, "it is reproducible in any hospital or any lab."

Keith Cristie, marketing manager for Roche Diagnostics, tells WebMD that hospitals and labs will probably "bill between $100 and $150 for the test."

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