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Keywords:

  • Hepatitis C virus;
  • interferon alpha;
  • molecular biology;
  • real-time PCR;
  • ribavin;
  • serological tests

Abstract

Chronic hepatitis C is a global health problem that may cause cirrhosis and progression to hepatocellular carcinoma. Currently available antiviral treatments are moderately effective. Several virological assays are available to help diagnose and manage patients infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). These include the anti-HCV antibody assays, measurement of HCV RNA viral load and HCV genotyping. HCV RNA can be assayed by two types of molecular biology-based techniques: target amplification as in polymerase chain reaction methods and signal amplification such as the branched DNA assay. Monitoring of viral kinetics during the early phases of antiviral treatment is crucial in making treatment decisions such as early stopping rules and also in optimizing the length of treatment. The HCV genotype can be determined by several methods. Whatever the method, pretreatment determination allows treatment length and ribavirin dose to be optimized and also offers prognostic information on treatment outcomes as certain genotypes respond more favourably to treatment. Thus, virological assays are indispensable in the diagnosis and management of individuals infected with the HCV.