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