What Is a Hepatitis Viral Panel?

The hepatitis virus panel is an array of tests used to detect viral hepatitis infections. It can distinguish between current and past infections.

The viral panel uses antibody and antigen tests, which allows it to detect multiple kinds of viruses simultaneously. Antibodies are proteins made by your body’s immune system to fight against harmful substances. Antibodies react to proteins known as antigens. Antigens may be from fungi, bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Each antibody recognizes a specific type of antigen. It can also distinguish between current and past infections.

Your doctor may recommend a hepatitis viral panel if you have symptoms of hepatitis, such as:

  • abdominal pain or bloating
  • dark colored urine
  • low-grade fever
  • jaundice
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • breast development in males
  • general itching

The viral panel is used to:

  • detect current or past hepatitis infections
  • determine how contagious your hepatitis is
  • monitor your hepatitis treatment
  • check whether you’ve been vaccinated

The test may also be performed to detect:

  • chronic persistent hepatitis
  • delta agent (hepatitis D), a rare form of hepatitis that only occurs in people with hepatitis B (HBV)
  • nephrotic syndrome, a type of kidney damage

Your doctor will need to take a sample of blood from your arm.

To do this, they’ll clean the site with a swab of rubbing alcohol and insert a needle into a vein that’s attached to a tube. When enough blood has collected in the tube, the needle is removed. The site is covered with an absorbent pad.

If the blood sample is being taken from an infant or young child, the doctor will use a tool called a lancet. This pricks the skin and may be less frightening than a needle. The blood will be collected on a slide and a bandage will cover the site.

The blood sample goes to a laboratory for analysis.

Normal Results

If your results are normal, you don’t have hepatitis and have never been infected with hepatitis or been vaccinated for it.

Abnormal Results

If your blood sample tested positive for antibodies, it may mean a few things:

  • You have a hepatitis infection. It may be a recent infection or you may have had it for a long time.
  • You have had a hepatitis infection in the past, but you do not have it now. You are not contagious.
  • You have been vaccinated for hepatitis.

Hepatitis A (HAV) Test Results

  • IgM HAV antibodies mean that you have recently been infected with HAV.
  • IgM and IgG HAV antibodies mean that you have had HAV in the past or been vaccinated for HAV. If both tests are positive, you have an active infection.

Hepatitis B (HBV) Test Results

  • HBV surface antigen means you are currently infected with HBV. This may be a new or chronic infection.
  • Antibody to HBV core antigen means you have been infected with HBV. This is the first antibody to appear after infection.
  • Antibody to HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) means you have been vaccinated for or infected with hepatitis B.
  • HBV type e antigen means you have HBV and are currently contagious.

Hepatitis C (HCV) Test Results

  • Anti-HCV test means you have been infected with HCV or are currently infected.
  • HCV viral load means there is detectable HCV in your blood and you are contagious.

As with any blood test, there are minimal risks. You may experience minor bruising at the needle site. In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after blood is drawn. This condition, known as phlebitis, can be treated with a warm compress several times each day.

Ongoing bleeding could be a problem if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin.

There are no special preparations necessary for this test. You should inform your doctor if you are taking any blood thinning medications. Your doctor may advise you to stop taking certain medications.

Whether you are contagious depends on which virus you are infected with and how long you’ve been infected. It’s possible to spread viral hepatitis even when you don’t have symptoms.

If you’ve been diagnosed with HAV, you’re contagious from the beginning of your infection up to two weeks.

If you have HBV or HCV, you will be contagious for as long as the virus is present in your blood.

Depending on your results, your doctor will decide the correct course of action.