Diagnosing Hepatitis C

Urine Test for Diagnosing Hepatitis C

Diagnosing hepatitis C can be made simpler with an easy urine test instead of the conventional and costlier two-step approach with a blood test that is currently utilized. Scientists at University of California Irvine School of Medicine have developed a test that uses enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)—a common diagnostic tool when using wet lab samples—to detect hepatitis C antigens indicative of a current infection.

With the traditional blood test, the first step involves detecting anti-hepatitis C antibodies. A positive result, however, does not indicate an active infection as these antibodies will be present if a person was exposed to the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the past and the immune system fought off the pathogen. A positive test is followed by a HCV RNA test to detect viral RNA in the blood to determine an active infection. Genotyping may also be ordered to discern the most effective treatment and predict the expected length of therapy.

Urine from 110 people and blood from 138 people was collected. The results were compared using the two approaches, in which the urine test matched the blood test results completely. The new method not only increases sensitivity and specificity, it is also less expensive as the HCV RNA test can cost up to $200. In less developed nations where skilled phlebotomists and blood-processing equipment are not readily available, a simple urine test for diagnosing hepatitis C may be a lifesaver.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne pathogen and is acquired through blood and bodily fluids, i.e. passed from infected mother to child, sharing of needles, engaged in unprotected sex, received organ transplants before 1992 and blood transfusions before 1987. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 130-150 million people suffer from chronic hepatitis C, of which 2.7 million are Americans. During the early stages, a person infected with HCV is asymptomatic and usually goes undetected until complications develop later, which includes cirrhosis and liver failure. Diagnosing hepatitis C effectively and efficiently can staunch transmission rates and prevent future generations from unknowingly acquiring the disease.

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