An article on the why, where, how, when and cost of hepatitis B viral load test.
Before I proceed let me start by giving you snippets on hepatitis b virus
Facts about hepatitis b virus
- It is the commonest cause of viral hepatitis
- It can be contracted through blood contacts, unprotected sex and mother to child transmission.
- It is a cause of liver cancer
- Common drugs for hepatitis b infection are lamivudine, interferon, abacavir, entacavir, tenofovir and so on.
- About 23 million Nigerians are infected with Hepatitis B
- That hepatitis b is curable is still controversial
- The common tests for hepatitis b are HbsAg, liver function test, HBV genotype, Hbeag, anti-Hbe and hepatitis b viral load.
- Treatment for hepatitis b is expensive.
- It is best prevented by vaccination.
Definition of key terms
- Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg): A protein on the surface of hepatitis B virus; it can be detected in high levels in serum during acute or chronic hepatitis B virus infection. The presence of HBsAg indicates that the person is infectious. The body normally produces antibodies to HBsAg as part of the normal immune response to infection. HBsAg is the antigen used to make hepatitis B vaccine.
- Hepatitis B surface antibody (anti-HBs): The presence of anti-HBs is generally interpreted as indicating recovery and immunity from hepatitis B virus infection. Anti-HBs also develops in a person who has been successfully vaccinated against hepatitis B.
- Total hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc): Appears at the onset of symptoms in acute hepatitis B and persists for life. The presence of anti-HBc indicates previous or ongoing infection with hepatitis B virus in an undefined time frame.
- IgM antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (IgM anti-HBc): Positivity indicates recent infection with hepatitis B virus (<6 months). Its presence indicates acute infection.
What is hepatitis b viral load test
Also known as HBV DNA. It is a test to measure the amount of hepatitis b in your blood. It is measured in IU/ml. It determines a lot of things in the management of hepatitis b infection. It is a blood test.
Why go for hepatitis viral load test
HBV DNA (quantitative viral load) indicates viral burden and viral replication. It is used to assess recovery from infection and candidacy for antiviral therapy and to differentiate between inactive carrier state and chronic active hepatitis in chronic HBV infection. It also helps to determine when to start treatment.
Interpretation of results
In a person with detectable HBeAg, an HBV viral load greater than 20,000 international units per milliliter (IU/mL) of blood indicates that the virus is active and has the greatest potential to cause damage to the liver. Similarly, in a person with an HBeAg-negative chronic hepatitis B, an HBV viral load of greater than 2,000 IU/mL indicates that the virus is active and has the potential to cause damage to the liver. Generally speaking, if the HBV viral load is above these numbers, treatment is considered necessary. However, HBV treatment decisions are based on multiple factors, and your doctor may make recommendations based on other input.
Where can you do hepatitis B viral load test
It can be done in many big labs in Nigeria especially in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Benin city, Delta, Kaduna, Kano and so on. In Lagos, you can do it in Nigerian Institute of Medical Research in Yaba. Their results are reliable. Labs like Pathcare (Synlab), Union Diagnostics, and Raytouch does Hepatitis b DNA test. Teaching hospitals and Federal Medical Centres also do the test.
Hepatitis B viral load test is expensive. The prices ranges between #30,000 to #50,000 naira. Even worse is the fact that you are expected to do this test at least 3 times a year in order to help your doctor assess your response to treatment.