Diagnosis of viral hepatitis

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Purpose of review

Chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections and HIV–HBV and HCV coinfection are major causes of chronic liver disease worldwide. Testing and diagnosis is the gateway for access to both treatment and prevention services, but there remains a large burden of undiagnosed infection globally. We review the global epidemiology, key challenges in the current hepatitis testing response, new tools to support the hepatitis global response (2016–2020 Global Hepatitis Health Sector strategy, and 2017 WHO guidelines on hepatitis testing) and future directions and innovations in hepatitis diagnostics.

Recent findings

Key challenges in the current hepatitis testing response include lack of quality-assured serological and low-cost virological in-vitro diagnostics, limited facilities for testing, inadequate data to guide country-specific hepatitis testing approaches, stigmatization of those with or at risk of viral hepatitis and lack of guidelines on hepatitis testing for resource-limited settings. The new Global Hepatitis Health Sector strategy sets out goals for elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030 and gives outcome targets for reductions in new infections and mortality, as well as service delivery targets that include testing, diagnosis and treatment. The 2017 WHO hepatitis testing guidelines for adults, adolescents and children in low-income and middle-income countries outline the public health approach to strengthen and expand current testing practices for viral hepatitis and addresses who to test (testing approaches), which serological and virological assays to use (testing strategies) as well as interventions to promote linkage to prevention and care.


Future directions and innovations in hepatitis testing include strategies to improve access such as through use of existing facility and community-based testing opportunities for hepatitis testing, near-patient or point-of-care assays for virological markers (nucleic acid testing and HCV core antigen), dried blood spot specimens used with different serological and nucleic acid test assays, multiplex and multi-disease platforms to enable testing for multiple analytes/pathogens and potential self-testing for viral hepatitis.

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