A pilot program in Wisconsin offering rapid hepatitis C virus testing through outreach programs to drug users helped to detect a significant number of infections that were previously unreported, according to officials from the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.
“Recent evidence suggests that availability of HCV detection services in integrated care settings that combine substance abuse treatment and injection safety is most effective at reducing HCV infection among persons who inject drugs,” the researchers wrote in MMWR. “The use of rapid HCV tests could be a powerful tool for screening, conveying prevention information and initiating treatment in this population with a high prevalence of HCV infection.”
The pilot program took place from October 2012 to October 2013. Clients of four different agencies that provide outreach programs were offered rapid HCV testing in addition to rapid HIV testing, syringe exchange, counseling and other harm reduction services. During this period, 1,255 people had a rapid HCV test and 246 (20%) were positive. Most of these infections had not previously been reported to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.
Among those who were tested, the median age was 28 years and most were white. Those with HCV infection were more likely to be younger than 30 years and white. The most common risk behavior among all those tested was injection drug use, reported by 1,033 (82%) of the participants. Among those with positive results, 183 provided blood specimens that were tested for HCV RNA, and 128 (70%) of those were positive, indicating active infection.
“Use of the rapid HCV test detected previously unreported HCV infections and raised awareness of HCV,” the researchers wrote. “Persons identified with active HCV infection should be referred to medical care and counseled on ways to prevent HCV transmission to others.”
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.