US Preventative Services Announces Universal Screening Recommendation for Hepatitis C
Seventh Volume of eViralHepatitis Review Aims to Improve Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment for Hepatitis C
After decades of decline in the incidence of hepatitis C (HCV), the virus is now increasing in the population largely driven by the epidemic of injection drug use. Currently, over 10,000 new infections occur in America annually. Most people with HCV do not have symptoms and are unaware of their infection. A majority of people with the virus will eventually develop inflammation of the liver, which can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver cancer, and death. Unfortunately, despite treatment that can effectively cure the infection in the majority of patients, only about 11% of people with HCV receive appropriate medical care.
Recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft recommendation to screen all adults ages 18-79 for HCV. This is an update from the 2013 recommendation which suggested screening for people born between 1945-1965 ("baby boomers") and those with specific risk factors. This "universal screening" may identify more than a quarter million people who would not be identified through birth cohort and risk-based screening. Universal screening also eliminates the need for clinicians to identify people at-risk and it will remove the stigma associated with these risk factors.
"Eradication of HCV is a goal of the World Health Organization and many national and international medical societies," states Raymond Chung, MD, co-program director of eViralHepatitis Review and director of hepatology at Mass General Hospital in Boston. "To eradicate the virus, we must first identify people who are infected with the virus through screening. Clinicians must be trained to screen for HCV and to provide care or link their patients with HCV to appropriate medical care."
HCV primarily attacks the liver, but clinicians must also recognize the common extra-hepatic manifestations of HCV, such as depression and autoimmune disorders. "Some of these manifestations may be ameliorated by HCV treatment, but clinicians must first recognize that these conditions are present. As the population of people with HCV is increasing and becoming older, the clinical implications of these manifestations may also be increasing,"
The seventh volume of eViralHepatitis Review will comprise two newsletters and two podcasts devoted to educating clinicians about the importance of screening for HCV, especially among people who inject drugs, and of recognizing and treating the common extrahepatic manifestations of HCV.