COVID-19 pandemic led to decreases in hepatitis C testing, treatment
The COVID-19 pandemic caused major decreases in hepatitis C virus testing and treatment, hindering efforts to meet WHO goals for 2030, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“As much as we think about 2020 as the year of the pandemic and hopefully, we're sort of in that downward flow at the moment it’s also going to be the year that we're going to remember hepatitis C,” Harvey W. Kaufman, MD, senior medical director at Quest Diagnostics and head of Quest Diagnostics health trends research, told Healio.
“It’s the year that the Nobel Prize was awarded to Harvey J. Alter, MD, Michael Houghton, PhD, DSc Hon, and Charles M. Rice, PhD, for the discovery of hepatitis C,” he continued. “It was the year that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the CDC revised their guidelines for hepatitis C, recommending that all adults be tested. It was the year that both the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the CDC recommended that women who are pregnant get tested for each pregnancy. It was a great year in terms of what we sort of hoped for in terms of recognition and awareness of hepatitis C.”
Kaufman said the pandemic “got in the way of what can be, and will be, a great medical advance, which is the elimination of hepatitis C. So, this study is timely, it's big, and that's why we did it.”
To assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on hepatitis C, Kaufman and colleagues evaluated data from a large national reference clinical laboratory and national estimates of dispensed prescriptions for HCV treatment. According to the study, the researchers estimated the average number of HCV antibody tests, HCV antibody-positive test results, and HCV RNA positive test results by month, from January to July for 2018 and 2019, and compared these data with the same months in 2020.
The study demonstrated that, when compared with 2018 and 2019, HCV antibody testing volume decreased 59% during April 2020 and rebounded to a 6% reduction in July. Additionally, they found that the number of HCV RNA-positive results fell by 62% in March 2020 and remained 39% below the baseline by July 2020.
The study showed that prescriptions for HCV treatments also decreased 43% in May, 37% in June and 38% July, relative to the corresponding months in 2018 and 2019.
“There's a gap in care due to the pandemic. We need outreach, we need to involve engaged people to get tested, and then follow up with treatment. We need to extend testing to more adults to capture the 2.4 million Americans who were estimated to have hepatitis C as soon as possible because many of these people will develop chronic hepatitis and will develop the sequelae which includes liver failure, liver cancer and death, and they can also spread hepatitis C to other individuals unknowingly,” Kaufman said. “I'm not sure if we're going to hit the WHO target of 2030 because of the setback, but hopefully, we won't get too far behind and can accelerate our efforts and get back on track.”