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What does It Mean to be Hepatitis C Positive?

Article Details
  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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A test result of hepatitis C positive typically means that one has been infected with the hepatitis C virus. This virus generally spreads from blood to blood contact between an infected individual and a non-infected individual, via transfusions, unsterilized needles, contact sports, child birth, or sexual activity.

While a hepatitis C test result may be positive, symptoms of hepatitis C may be nonexistent. Liver inflammation is the main consequence of the virus. If symptoms do exist, they may include yellowing skin, fatigue, joint pain, fever, loss of appetite, and vague abdominal or flu-like pains. A long-term infection will likely lead to liver scarring. More serious long-term cases can progress to liver failure or liver cancer.

A person that has tested hepatitis C positive has likely undergone a blood test. This test screens serum, a clear liquid found in the blood after clotting. Patients who have a presence of hepatitis C virus antibodies in the serum will show that they have had exposure to the virus, with a strong presence indicating a likely infection. Additional nucleic acid tests may be necessary to confirm exposure, because some individuals will not develop the antibodies that indicate an infection.

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Further nucleic acid tests will validate that a current hepatitis C infection has taken place and will confirm whether or not the initial result was a false positive. These tests are also important in measuring viral load — or the amount of the virus found in the blood — as viral load can be a crucial indicator of how well potential treatments will work on a patient. Genotype tests will help pinpoint which of the six different types of hepatitis C virus an individual has encountered. Liver function tests can also help determine the severity of the infection.

A hepatitis C positive diagnosis will typically occur around 10 to 15 weeks after an initial infection. The virus begins as a short-term acute infection, but many afflicted individuals have diminished immune capacity and therefore develop chronic infections that last for months. Specifically, a chronic hepatitis C positive diagnosis generally means that the infection has persisted for more than six months.

Hepatitis C infection may be discovered accidentally during a routine medical test, or hepatitis C screening may occur due to a patient’s history or current symptoms. Elevated liver enzymes may be detected during a regular test, which may concern doctors. Factors such as intravenous drug use or a recent transfusion may alert a physician to a possible infection, as will suspect symptoms like jaundice. In such cases, testing for hepatits C will likely occur. Testing may also occur during a blood donation.

Testing positive for hepatitis is a challenge, but it does not have to be a debilitating challenge. Treatments can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals living with hepatitis. Several drugs such as ribavirin and interferon alpha-2b can help individuals in managing hepatitis, especially if the infection is caught early and the hepatitis C virus is type 2 or type 3. Although drug treatments can be demanding and produce uncomfortable side effects, they represent an important tool in stemming the progression of the disease. Vaccinations for other forms of hepatitis and reduction of alcohol consumption are vital treatment measures as well.

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