Patients suffering from hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, at times, end up lost between separate stages of health care for the management of their disease, according to a recent study conducted at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. The results of the research, titled, “The continuum of hepatitis C testing and care,” published in the journal of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, Hepatology, calls attention to the role of increased awareness among the physicians and groups considered high-risk for Hepatitis C on proper tests, referral, support and care.
Even though there are increasing efforts being undertaken to improve HCV management, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health researchers’ findings suggest the importance of HCV screening as a way of improving diagnosis of the disease, especially among individuals in at-risk groups, including IV drug users, blood transfusion recipients, children born to mothers with a chronic Hepatitis C infection, and adults born between 1945 and 1965.
“The inadequacy of screening programs has made it difficult for state health departments to accurately determine the extent of HCV and the rate of transmission within the community,” explained Kendra Viner, Ph.D., MPH, from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. “Our study examines the management of HCV care at a population level to determine which patients tend to fall out of the medical system and why this might occur.”
The study revealed that 2.9% (46,000) of the 1,584,848 residents of Philadelphia are estimated to be positive for HCV, based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The public health department was able to confirm 13,596 positive HCV findings, which is 27% of the total estimation. About 1,745 people are currently under treatment, while 15% (956 people) had previously received treatment or been treated for the disease.
“Our findings show that many HCV patients are lost at each stage of the health care continuum from screening to disease confirmation to care and treatment,” added Viner. “The fact that so few patients with HCV are making it to treatment underscores the need to build awareness among at-risk groups of the importance of screening and continued care. It is critical that public health officials and clinicians understand why patients are lost at each stage so that changes can be made to improve care for those with chronic HCV.”
The study had access to test results through the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s hepatitis surveillance data, from which the researchers gathered HCV tests reported to the department between January 2010 and December 2013. HCV is still one of the diseases with higher rates of prevalence, and affects more than 150 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the Unites States alone, there are approximately 3.2 million people infected with HCV, and about 70% of them are unaware of it.