Viral hepatitis is a global health problem that affects hundreds of millions of people. According to the World Health Organization:
- 2 billion people have been infected with hepatitis B (HBV).
- More than 360 million have a chronic HBV infection.
- 170 million people have chronic hepatitis C (HCV).
- About 3–4 million new HCV infections occur every year.
- About 80% of newly infected patients develop chronic HCV.1,2
The clinical consequences of HBV and HCV infection can be serious and include cirrhosis and liver cancer. Furthermore, the diagnosis, staging, and monitoring of hepatitis is complicated, making diagnostic testing an important element in the management of patients with hepatitis. Diagnostic tests include:
- Immunoassays to identify patients with viral hepatitis and determine whether an individual has an acute or chronic infection
- Blood tests of liver function to determine the extent of liver damage
- Nucleic acid testing (NAT) to help confirm diagnosis, guide treatment, and indicate prognosis
- Viral load testing to assess disease status and response to therapy
- Biomarkers, imaging, and biopsy to help stage the degree of fibrosis and liver injury
1. World Health Organization. Hepatitis C. Fact Sheet No 164. http://www.who.int/wer. Accessed October 6, 2008.
2. Centers for Disease Control Division of Viral Hepatitis. FAQs for Health Professionals. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/HCVfaq.htm. Accessed October 6, 2008.