Hepatitis A Testing
- Also Known As:
- Viral Hepatitis A Antibody
- HAV Immunity Determination
- HAV Vaccination Status
- Hep A Vaccination Status
- Hepatitis A Antibody
- HAV-Ab IgM
- HAV-Ab IgG
- HAV-Ab Total
- Formal Name:
- Viral Hepatitis A Antibody
Test Quick Guide
Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is a viral infection that causes inflammation and other problems in the liver. Testing detects evidence of a current or past HAV infection and is performed on a sample of your blood. Also, testing may be used to diagnose HAV and assess whether you have immunity to this disease.
About the Test
Purpose of the test
The purpose of HAV testing is to determine if you have been infected by the virus.
HAV is highly contagious, and infection can cause hepatitis, a condition characterized by inflammation and enlargement of the liver. There are several viruses that can cause hepatitis. Some hepatitis viruses cause only short-term infections called acute disease, while others can cause long-term infections known as chronic disease.
Typically a sudden, acute infection, HAV lasts a few weeks to several months. In most cases, this virus does not cause chronic infection. In rare cases, though, HAV can be severe and cause liver damage or failure.
This virus is spread through fecal-oral transmission, which means that you contract the disease when you ingest traces of the feces, also called stool, of a person infected with HAV. Most often, the transmission of HAV occurs through consuming unwashed food or water that has been contaminated.
A doctor may order HAV testing for several purposes:
- Diagnosing current infection: Doctors use tests to diagnose the cause of hepatitis if you have signs and symptoms of this disease.
- Assessing immunity: After you recover from an HAV infection, you become immune to future infections due to the development of protective antibodies. HAV testing may show that you have developed protective antibodies to the disease after recovering from a past infection or because you previously received an HAV vaccination.
What does the test measure?
To determine if viral hepatitis is caused by HAV, testing looks for certain antibodies, substances made by the immune system in response to infection with a virus such as HAV.
HAV testing looks for two types of antibodies. These are part of the body’s protective response to a viral infection, and HAV antibodies may be measured by a few different tests:
- HAV immunoglobulin M (IgM anti-HAV) antibody test: When you are first infected with HAV, the body produces IgM anti-HAV antibodies. These antibodies are usually detectable from two weeks after symptoms begin to around six months later.
- HAV immunoglobulin G (IgG anti-HAV) antibody test: The test detects IgG antibodies that develop later in the course of the disease. IgG antibodies are detectable in the body for life, protecting against future infection. This test detects past HAV infections and may occasionally be used to determine if you have developed immunity from a previous infection or vaccination.
- Total HAV antibody test: This test detects both IgM and IgG antibodies and thus is used to identify both current and past infections.
Although testing the blood for HAV antibodies is the gold standard for identifying an HAV infection, other tests may be ordered that instead look for the genetic material of HAV. This type of testing, also called nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT), can detect traces of HAV in your stool, blood, body fluids, and liver tissue.
In many cases, specific HAV testing occurs along with or after blood tests that measure liver function. This may include a broad panel of tests, called a liver panel, with measurements that can provide information about liver function and inflammation. While these tests can suggest viral hepatitis, they cannot identify the specific virus, so antibody testing may be prescribed to confirm the underlying cause.
When should I get this test?
Doctors often recommend testing for hepatitis based on your medical history, symptoms, and physical exam.
Most adults with HAV have symptoms that develop around 28 days after infection. Children under six years old rarely have symptoms. Symptoms of HAV include:
- Dark urine
- Diarrhea and stool that is gray- or clay-colored
- Low-grade fever
- Abdominal or joint pain
- Nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
- Yellow eyes and skin, also called jaundice
Doctors may recommend testing if you have symptoms and known exposure to HAV or an elevated risk of contracting this disease. Factors that increase the risk of exposure to HAV include:
- Travel, especially to Asia, South America, Central America, Africa, and the Middle East
- Using intravenous drugs and the use of illegal drugs
- Living in a nursing home
- Working in industries involving health care, food, or sewage
- Eating raw shellfish, vegetables, and other foods
If you develop symptoms of HAV without known exposure to the virus, doctors may recommend an acute viral hepatitis panel that looks for HAV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C in the same blood sample.
Finding a Hepatitis A Test
How can I get a hepatitis A test?
HAV testing uses a sample of blood to test for antibodies against the virus. When prescribed by a doctor, a blood sample may be collected in a hospital or other medical setting and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Blood is usually drawn from a vein in your arm or the back of the hand.
Can I take the test at home?
At-home testing for HAV is not currently available in the U.S. HAV testing requires blood to be drawn by a health care professional in a hospital, laboratory, or another medical setting.
While you can order an HAV test online, you’ll need to go into a lab to have your sample collected.
How much does the test cost?
Costs vary for HAV testing, but you can order a test online from Testing.com for $59 and get tested at a local lab.
When ordered by a doctor, testing for HAV may be paid for by your health insurance coverage. Health plans vary, so if you have health insurance, it’s important to talk to an administrator about the cost of testing, including any copays or deductibles that may be required.
If you don’t have health insurance coverage that covers HAV testing, it may be helpful to discuss the cost with a doctor. The total cost can include the office visit, the blood draw, and technician fees in addition to the cost of laboratory testing.
Taking a Hepatitis A Test
HAV testing is performed on a sample of blood. To obtain the sample, a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider uses a small needle to draw blood from a vein.
Before the test
Generally, you do not need to prepare for HAV testing. As with other blood tests, it is important to talk to your doctor about any prescription or over-the-counter drugs you are taking, but it is rare to have to adjust medications before an HAV test.
During the test
HAV testing is conducted on a sample of blood that can be collected through a blood draw or by puncturing the skin.
During a blood draw, a health care provider takes a sample of blood from a vein in your arm. After locating an appropriate vein and cleaning the collection site, a small needle is inserted into the vein, and blood is collected in an attached vial. A blood draw usually takes less than five minutes.
When testing for HAV in infants and young children, a device with a very small needle, called a lancet, may be used to puncture the skin to collect blood. Once the skin is punctured, a small amount of blood is collected in a tube or vial.
After the test
After a blood sample is collected, a bandage or piece of gauze may be applied to reduce additional bleeding. Risks of blood collection are minimal, although you may have light bruising and tenderness where the needle was inserted. There are no restrictions on normal activities after a blood sample is collected.
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Hepatitis A Test Results
Receiving test results
Results may be available within a few business days after the laboratory receives the blood sample. You may receive test results during a follow-up appointment or through an electronic medical record. Results may also be given by phone or postal mail.
Interpreting test results
HAV test results may include the results of anti-HAV IgM antibody testing, anti-HAV IgG antibody testing, or the sum of both antibodies in total antibody testing.
A negative test result on an anti-HAV IgM antibody test indicates that IgM antibodies were not found in the test sample and that you do not have a current HAV infection. If an anti-HAV IgG antibody test or total antibody test was performed and the results are also negative, you don’t currently have HAV and show no evidence of immunity from either vaccination or past infection.
If testing detects anti-HAV IgM or IgG antibodies, the interpretation of the test depends on the specific results. The table below outlines potential interpretations of positive test results:
Hepatitis A Test Results
|IgM Anti-HAV Antibody Test||IgG Anti-HAV Antibody Test or Total Antibody Test||Potential Interpretation|
|Positive||Not performed||Acute or recent hepatitis A infection|
|Negative||Positive||No active infection but has developed immunity to HAV|
|Not Performed||Positive||Has been exposed to HAV but acute infection cannot be ruled out. May have immunity.|
|Not Performed||Negative||No current or previous HAV infection. Not immune.|
While no blood test is accurate all of the time, HAV testing is the standard and accepted method of determining whether or not you have an active HAV infection or formed immunity.
Although a positive result on an IgM anti-HAV antibody test is considered diagnostic for acute infection with HAV, this result may be less helpful if you aren’t experiencing symptoms of hepatitis. If you don’t have symptoms, finding IgM anti-HAV antibodies may reflect a prior HAV infection in which IgM antibodies have remained in your body for longer than usual or an asymptomatic infection.
For support in understanding the results of HAV testing, discuss the results with your doctor. Questions about test results may include:
- What is my test result?
- Do I have an HAV infection?
- Does the test result suggest that I have immunity to HAV?
- Would I benefit from HAV vaccination?
- Do I need any follow-up tests based on my results?
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