Screening of New Inmates with IV Drug History Could Identify Thousands of New HCV Cases Annually
A study published in the March issue of Hepatology, a journal of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, estimates that the prevalence of acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is nearly one percent among newly incarcerated inmates with a history of recent drug use. Findings suggest that systematic screening of intravenous (IV) drug users who are new to the prison system could identify more than 7,000 cases of HCV across the U.S. annually—even among asymptomatic inmates.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Health—the funding organization for this current study—chronic HCV affects 180 million people worldwide, with more than 4 million cases in the U.S. Studies have shown that most IV drug users acquire HCV with in the first year of risky injection habits and in the U.S. this population accounts for 46% of symptomatic acute infections. Due to past injection drug use, incarcerated inmates have HCV infection rates ranging from 25% to 41%—roughly 20 times higher than the general population.
"While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend more vigilant surveillance of at risk populations, many healthcare programs in correctional facilities do not routinely screen for HCV," comments Dr. Arthur Kim with the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University Center for AIDS Research in Boston. "Our study investigated whether the implementation of a low-cost, systematic screening process for high-risk behavior could uncover more asymptomatic acute HCV cases among newly incarcerated individuals who recently used injection drugs."