Lab Test to Detect Hepatitis C
Finding out that I had the hepatitis C virus brought a whole bunch of new words in my life. I remember after I started on the hepatitis C treatment. I kept hearing a lot of new words. One of them was undetected. I thought of Sherlock Holmes and his magnifying spy glass. In a way it was true that my blood went under a microscope. But becoming undetected was also like a giant invisible hurdle that I was trying to jump over. I wasn’t even sure what it all meant, but I quickly learned.
When you get tested for the hepatitis C virus, they first look to see if you have any antibodies. If that test is positive, the doctor will order the RNA test. This one lets you know if the virus is active right now. If it is, they can “detect” it in your bloodstream.
When the virus was first detected in my bloodstream, the viral load was under 100,000. I had end stage liver disease and at first, they refused to treat me. After almost a year, they ran the test again and the viral load was much higher. By that time, the new drugs were just being approved by the Food and Drug Administration. I asked to get on the first round of treatment and my medical team finally agreed.
After beginning treatment, the doctor will run a blood test again to see if the virus is still “detectable” in your blood stream. This is usually done at 4 and 12 weeks into your treatment. If the virus is not “detected” at 12 weeks, it is considered a sustained virologic response or SVR, and hearing those words are like music to your ears.
At this point, most doctors would call you cured.
However, if you have advanced fibrosis on your liver because of cirrhosis, the treatment may be different. Your doctor may ask you to stay on hepatitis C medication for a longer period of time.
If the virus is still “detected at 4 weeks, the doctor may run the RNA test again at 6 weeks.
I remember when they first ran the tests at 10 days. I think my next set of labs was at 1 month. I sat on pins and needles. I called my doctor’s office and bugged them. I could barely work because I watched my phone constantly. Thankfully, since the medications were so new, even the doctors were excited to see the undetectable for the first time in their career. They didn't mind my phone calls.
I took the treatment so seriously. I only missed 2 doses in 43 weeks. In those days, we even had to get up in the night to take them. I had timers set on my phone. When the alarm went off, I jumped and started swallowing pills.
Today, it is not unusual for you to hear the word “cure” being used for hepatitis C. The “not detected” is a phrase that means you can start your life over. You have a new beginning without HCV. Your liver is not burdened down and sick. Your body can begin to heal. You have a fresh start without the hepatitis C virus. It is no longer Detected in your blood. You are clear and good to go!
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