Test Quick Guide

An acute viral hepatitis panel is a group of tests used to diagnose a current or past viral hepatitis infection. Hepatitis can have many different causes but in most cases is due to an infection with a hepatitis virus. This panel screens for the three most common types of viral hepatitis: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

Acute viral hepatitis testing is conducted on a blood sample. This panel of tests may be used to diagnose the cause of a patient’s symptoms or test a patient who has been exposed to a hepatitis virus and hasn’t yet developed symptoms of this condition.

About the Test

Purpose of the test

The purpose of an acute viral hepatitis panel is to test the blood for evidence of hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, which are the most common types of viral hepatitis. Acute viral hepatitis panel testing can identify early or recent infections to hepatitis A and hepatitis B and whether someone has been infected with hepatitis C at some point in time.

An acute viral hepatitis panel detects acute, or short-term, infections with hepatitis A and B, as well as chronic infections with hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B is less common than acute hepatitis but can persist for years and slowly damage the liver. Over time, chronic hepatitis can result in complications such as severe scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis, as well as liver failure and liver cancer.

An acute viral hepatitis panel isn’t able to differentiate between acute and chronic hepatitis C infections, but it can determine whether a patient has ever been infected with hepatitis C.

Positive results on an acute viral hepatitis panel often require follow-up testing to definitively diagnose a patient’s condition and to initiate proper treatment.

What does the test measure?

An acute viral hepatitis panel includes several tests that measure antigens and antibodies. Antigens are foreign substances such as proteins of the virus itself, while antibodies are substances produced by the immune system in response to the viral infection.

An acute viral hepatitis panel tests for antigens and/or antibodies of hepatitis A, B, and C:

  • Hepatitis A testing: The portion of the acute viral hepatitis panel that tests for hepatitis A looks for IgM anti-HAV antibodies, which can be detected when a patient begins to develop symptoms and remain detectable for around three to six months.
  • Hepatitis B testing: Testing for hepatitis B in an acute viral hepatitis panel involves tests that detect hepatitis B surface antigens and IgM hepatitis B core antibodies. Hepatitis B surface antigens are detectable within 1 to 10 weeks after exposure, before symptoms develop, and remain detectable for up to 4 to 6 months in patients who recover from acute infection. After the disappearance of hepatitis B surface antigens, IgM hepatitis B core antibodies are detectable for up to two years after an acute infection and during flare-ups of chronic hepatitis B. If chronic hepatitis B is suspected, follow-up testing may be necessary.
  • Hepatitis C testing: As part of an acute viral hepatitis panel, hepatitis C testing looks for the presence of antibodies to the hepatitis C virus in the blood. Hepatitis C antibodies are often detectable within 4 to 10 weeks after a patient becomes infected with this virus. In some cases, positive results on this test may be followed by testing that measures the amount of genetic material of the hepatitis C virus, called hepatitis C RNA testing.

When should I get an acute viral hepatitis panel?

An acute viral hepatitis panel may be recommended when a patient has symptoms of hepatitis, or if a person has a suspected or known exposure to a hepatitis virus. Although some patients with hepatitis have no symptoms, when present symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
  • Abdominal and joint pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Jaundice

Patients that have an acute hepatitis infection may begin to experience symptoms between 2 weeks and 6 months after becoming infected. Patients with a chronic hepatitis infection may not experience symptoms until many years after infection.

Doctors may also recommend an acute viral hepatitis panel in patients with abnormal results on tests that evaluate liver function, such as a liver panel.

Finding an Acute Viral Hepatitis Panel

How to get tested

An acute viral hepatitis panel is performed after being prescribed by a doctor. This panel of tests requires one sample of blood, on which multiple tests can be conducted.

A blood sample can be taken in a hospital, lab, or other medical setting. Blood can be drawn from a vein or, in children, blood can be obtained by pricking the skin. After collection, the blood sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Can I take the test at home?

Although an acute viral hepatitis panel cannot be conducted at home, at-home test kits are available for some tests within this panel. These kits involve obtaining a blood sample by pricking a finger with a sharp object, called a lancet, and then sending it to a laboratory for testing.

At-home test options include:

Several at-home hepatitis testing companies sell test panels that detect both hepatitis B and C. There is no at-home test available for hepatitis A. Testing for hepatitis A requires blood to be drawn by a health care professional.

Because hepatitis testing can involve many tests, testing for hepatitis at-home is not a substitute for care provided by a health care professional. Results of at-home tests may need to be confirmed through laboratory-based testing.

How much does the test cost?

Several factors affect the cost of an acute viral hepatitis panel, including where the test is conducted, if any other tests or procedures are being performed at the same time, and whether or not the patient has health insurance that covers testing.

In addition to the panel itself, costs may include technician fees for collecting a blood sample and an additional charge for the office visit. These costs may be covered by health insurance if the acute viral antibody test is prescribed by a doctor. Patients with health insurance may still be responsible for copays, deductibles, and other charges.

Taking an Acute Viral Hepatitis Panel

An acute viral hepatitis panel requires a blood sample. This sample can be collected by drawing blood from a vein in a patient’s arm or the back of their hand. The test is performed in a doctor’s office, laboratory, or other medical setting.

Before the test

There is no special preparation required before an acute viral hepatitis panel.

During the test

When collecting a sample of blood for an acute viral hepatitis panel, blood is drawn from a patient’s vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. First, the site of the blood draw is cleaned with antiseptic, a medicine that kills germs on the skin. Next, the doctor or other health care professional ties an elastic band around the patient’s upper arm to increase the blood in the vein.

Once the site is prepared, a needle attached to a collection vial is gently inserted into the vein. Once collection begins, the provider removes the elastic band from the patient’s arm. After a sufficient amount of blood is collected, the needle is withdrawn, and pressure is applied to the site to prevent additional bleeding.

This process usually lasts less than five minutes, and there may be some temporary discomfort as the needle is inserted and withdrawn.

If an acute viral hepatitis panel is being ordered for an infant or young child, blood may be collected through a skin prick rather than a traditional blood draw. To collect a small sample of blood, a lancet is used to puncture the skin just enough to collect a few drops of blood in a small glass tube, slide, or test strip. The test lasts less than a minute and the skin prick may cause a brief sting.

After the test

After a blood draw or skin prick is complete, a bandage or piece of gauze may be applied with light pressure to help prevent bleeding. Patients may experience some light bruising and tenderness at the puncture site.

There are no restrictions on activities once the blood draw or skin prick is complete.

Acute Viral Hepatitis Panel Results

Receiving test results

After test samples are collected and sent to a laboratory, patients should receive results within a few business days. Patients may receive test results during a follow-up medical appointment, over the phone, by mail, or electronically.

A patient’s doctor may wait to share test results until all tests in this panel are completed.

Interpreting test results

An acute viral hepatitis panel involves multiple tests to screen a blood sample for hepatitis A, B, and C at the same time. Results may be communicated differently depending on the laboratory conducting the test, so it’s important for patients to talk to their doctor about interpreting their test results.

In general, a negative result indicates that no evidence of a hepatitis infection was found in the blood sample. This may also be called a normal result.

Positive results, which may also be called abnormal results, indicate that some evidence of a past or current infection with hepatitis A, B, or current infection with C was found in the blood sample. Abnormal results of an acute viral hepatitis panel may include one of several antigens or antibodies:

  • IgM anti-HAV antibodies: Detection of IgM anti-HAV antibodies confirms an acute or recent hepatitis A infection. In patients without symptoms, IgM anti-HAV antibodies suggest a prior infection, or an asymptomatic infection, which is more common in young children.
  • Hepatitis B surface antigens: Hepatitis B surface antigens are the main indicator of a hepatitis B infection. A positive result suggests that a patient may have an active acute or chronic hepatitis B infection.
  • IgM hepatitis B core antibodies: IgM hepatitis B core antibodies are often considered a sign of an acute hepatitis B infection within the past two years or a flare-up of chronic hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis C antibodies: The presence of hepatitis C antibodies in the blood indicates that a patient has had a hepatitis C infection at some point in time, but a hepatitis C RNA test is needed to differentiate between a past and current infection.

Are test results accurate?

Although an acute viral hepatitis panel is a standard panel used to detect evidence of viral hepatitis, in many cases it provides only preliminary results. For patients who have abnormal results on the hepatitis B or C portions of this panel, additional testing is necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Do I need follow-up tests?

Based on the results of an acute viral hepatitis panel, other tests may be conducted to confirm initial findings and provide doctors with additional information about a patient’s condition. An acute viral hepatitis panel may be ordered with reflex testing, which describes additional testing that’s automatically performed on the test sample in the case of initial abnormal results.

These reflex or follow-up tests for positive test results may include a confirmation of hepatitis B results through the use of a different testing method or additional testing to measure the viral RNA of the hepatitis C virus.

If a patient is experiencing symptoms of hepatitis, yet tests results from an acute viral hepatitis panel are normal, additional testing may be ordered to evaluate a patient for non-viral causes of hepatitis.

Questions for your doctor about test results

The following questions about the results of an acute viral antibody panel may be helpful to review with a doctor:

  • What tests were included in this panel?
  • What was my test result?
  • Do I have a hepatitis infection, and if so, which type?
  • Would I benefit from hepatitis vaccination?
  • Do I need any follow-up tests based on my test result?


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