Nearly 50% of people who have ever had hepatitis C virus have received a follow-up RNA test to confirm whether they are still infected, according to new research by the CDC.
“The majority of people who have HCV do not even know they have HCV,” John Ward, MD, director of the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, said during a media briefing. “People must complete the two-step testing process to accurately identify current infection, so that they can receive the treatment they need. These data give us an idea of the gap between those who are and those who are not receiving the second follow-up test, showing us that we have a substantial challenge in front of us.”
The researchers evaluated surveillance data from eight sites in the United States, obtained from 2005 to 2011. They compared the number of people with a positive HCV antibody test with the number of people with a positive HCV RNA test. They examined the numbers by birth cohort, surveillance site and number of deaths. They also calculated the rates of newly reported HCV infection in 2011.
There were 217,755 people with newly reported HCV, and among those, 107,209 (49.2%) only had a positive antibody test and 110,546 (50.8%) had a positive RNA test. In both groups, people born from 1945 to 1965 comprised most new infections. Across all of the sites, the rate of persons with newly reported HCV infection was 84.7 per 100,000 population.
“HCV affects about 3 million Americans, most of whom are baby boomers,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said during the media briefing. “The bottom line is that if you were born from 1945 to 1965, get tested, and if that test is positive, have follow-up testing. You may not remember everything that happened in the ’60s and ’70s, but your liver does.”
According to Frieden, about half of the people infected with HCV will go on to have serious liver problems and about one-third may die of complications from their infections. HCV also is the leading cause of liver cancer, which is the fastest growing cause of cancer-related death in the United States, he said. If baby boomers are tested and receive care, about 120,000 deaths can be prevented.
The CDC recommends that testing for HCV begins with a rapid or laboratory-conducted assay for HCV antibody. A reactive result should be followed up with nucleic acid testing for HCV RNA.
For more information:
CDC. MMWR. 2013;62(early release):1-5.
CDC. MMWR. 2013;62(early release):1-4.