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The phrase "hepatitis C viral load" refers to the amount of hepatitis C virus in a person's blood. The results of this test (known as a viral RNA test or HCV RNA test) are usually expressed as International Units/mL (IU/mL) or RNA copies/mL. A person with a level of 1 million IU/mL or more is considered to have a high viral load. The measure of a patient's viral load can help the healthcare provider diagnose hepatitis C, predict treatment success, and assess how well a treatment program is working.
What Is Hepatitis C Viral Load?Hepatitis C viral load is simply the amount of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the blood. The number is obtained through a blood test called a viral RNA test, which is also known as the HCV RNA test.
A doctor can use the patient's hepatitis C viral load results to:
- Diagnose hepatitis C
- Predict the chances of a successful hepatitis C treatment
- See how well treatment for hepatitis C is working.
The hepatitis C viral load does not relate to the severity of the infection, the likelihood the disease will progress, or the hepatitis C prognosis.
Hepatitis C Viral Load and TreatmentThe hepatitis C viral load is one measure that the healthcare provider can use to determine how successful treatment with hepatitis C medication will be. The higher the viral load, the lower the chances of a successful treatment. For example, in people with a high hepatitis C viral load, medications are successful about 40 percent of the time. For people with a low hepatitis C viral load, the success rate is around 56 percent. In addition to viral load, other factors can also influence the success of treatment. The factors include:
- The genotype of the hepatitis C virus (see Hepatitis C Genotypes)
- The amount of liver damage present
- How long the person has had the hepatitis C virus
Within several months of beginning combination therapy (consisting of peginterferon injections and ribavirin pills), the healthcare provider will be able to tell whether or not the treatment is working. This is done using the same viral RNA blood test to determine the hepatitis C viral load. If the treatment is working, the amount of virus RNA in your blood (viral load) will have gone down. But if it's not working, the viral load will stay the same or even increase.