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How possible is it for someone to be positive for hepatitis C (HCV) if they do not have any measurable viral load?

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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.

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.

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

Reviewed by William Blahd on July 24, 2016

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

Reviewed by William Blahd on July 24, 2016

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What is a high viral load and a low viral load for hepatitis C?

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