Hepatitis C viral load testing and cure
Hepatitis C viral load testing is a blood test that measures how much hepatitis C virus is in the blood. This is also the test that checks if a person is cured of hepatitis C.
Viral load testing
A healthcare provider may recommend hepatitis C viral load testing at different stages:
Before starting treatment
A baseline viral load measurement provides information about the amount of hepatitis C in the blood before treatment is initiated.
Healthcare providers may choose to do a viral load test during treatment. This is sometimes done if a healthcare provider has concerns about whether someone is adhering to treatment. A high viral load may indicate that there is not enough drug in the person’s system to fight the virus.
Immediately after completing treatment
Some healthcare providers check to see if the virus is undetectable immediately after a person completes treatment. An undetectable viral load immediately after completing treatment does not mean that a person is cured of hepatitis C.
Twelve weeks after the end of treatment
Twelve weeks after the end of treatment, the healthcare provider will determine if a person has been cured of hepatitis C. The healthcare provider will do a viral load test to see if the hepatitis C virus is undetectable. An undetectable viral load at this point is called a sustained virological response (SVR or SVR 12), and it means that the person has been cured of hepatitis C.
Cure or sustained virological response (SVR)
Cure orsustained virological response (SVR) is when a person has an undetectable viral load 12 weeks after the end of treatment. Their body has cleared the virus.
Treatment failure is when a person has a detectable viral load 12 weeks after the end of treatment. This means the person was not cured of hepatitis C. In these rare circumstances, re-treatment is often an option. There are specific hepatitis C treatments that are highly effective at curing hepatitis C when the first round of treatment has failed. Each drug coverage program (provincial, territorial, federal or private) may have a specific process for covering the cost of re-treatment. A healthcare provider can provide more information about the process.
Relapse is when a person has an undetectable viral load at the end of treatment and then has a detectable viral load 12 weeks later. This means the person was not cured of hepatitis C and should be considered for re-treatment.
For more information on what to consider after a person is cured of hepatitis C, see Cirrhosis and ongoing monitoring for liver cancer and Hepatitis C re-infection.
Resources for service providers
- Hepatitis C Treatment – eduCATIE online course
- Common hepatitis C drugs available in Canada for adults – CATIE poster
Resources for clients
- Hep C can be cured – CATIE brochure
- Curing hepatitis C: What you need to know – CATIE booklet