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Viral Hepatitis

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FAQ: What does high/low viral load mean?

for Veterans and the Public

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What does high/low viral load mean?

Viral load is the amount of virus present in the bloodstream. It is expressed as the amount of viral genetic material (RNA) per milliliter of blood. Unlike some other viral infections, for hepatitis C infection, having a high level of virus is not better or worse than having a low level of virus in the bloodstream--in hepatitis C infection, having virus at all is what matters and the amount of virus does not predict how the liver disease will go. The viral load is definitely important when it comes to likelihood that the treatment will work--having a lower level of virus means you are more likely to have success with treatment than if you had a higher level of virus. But the viral load itself does not mean you are at higher risk of liver damage and is not related to how sick someone is.

The viral load is important at the time of making the diagnosis of hepatitis C infection. After that, the viral load does not need to be checked over and over--it only needs to be checked when on treatment.