Hepatitis C Virus Infection: Screening--Adults at High Risk and Adults born between 1945 and 1965


General

Grade: B The USPSTF recommends the service. There is high certainty that the net benefit is moderate or there is moderate certainty that the net benefit is moderate to substantial. Offer or provide this service.

Specific Recommendations

The USPSTF recommends screening for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in persons at high risk for infection. The USPSTF also recommends offering 1-time screening for HCV infection to adults born between 1945 and 1965. 

Frequency of Service

Persons in the birth cohort and those who are at risk because of potential exposure before universal blood screening and are not otherwise at increased risk need only be screened once. Persons with continued risk for HCV infection (injection drug users) should be screened periodically. The USPSTF found no evidence about how often screening should occur in persons who continue to be at risk for new HCV infection.

Risk Factor Information

The most important risk factor for HCV infection is past or current injection drug use. Another established risk factor for HCV infection is receipt of a blood transfusion before 1992. Because of the implementation of screening programs for donated blood, blood transfusions are no longer an important source of HCV infection. In contrast, 60% of new HCV infections occur in persons who report injection drug use within the past 6 months. Additional risk factors include long-term hemodialysis, being born to an HCV-infected mother, incarceration, intranasal drug use, getting an unregulated tattoo, and other percutaneous exposures (such as in health care workers or from having surgery before the implementation of universal precautions).  Evidence on tattoos and other percutaneous exposures as risk factors for HCV infection is limited. The relative importance of these additional risk factors may differ on the basis of geographic location and other factors. Large population-based studies report an independent association between high-risk sexual behaviors (multiple sex partners, unprotected sex, or sex with an HCV-infected person or injection drug user) and HCV infection. However, HCV seems to be inefficiently transmitted through sexual contact, and observed associations may have been confounded by other high-risk behaviors. In 1998, the highest prevalence rates of the anti-HCV antibody occurred in persons with significant direct percutaneous exposures, such as injection drug users and persons with hemophilia (60% to 90%); persons with less significant percutaneous exposures involving smaller amounts of blood, such as patients receiving hemodialysis (10% to 30%), had more moderate prevalence rates. Persons engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors (1% to 10%); recipients of blood transfusions (6%); and persons with infrequent percutaneous exposures, such as health care workers (1% to 2%), had the lowest prevalence rates. Among patients with abnormal results on liver function tests (measurement of aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase, or bilirubin) who were tested for reasons other than HCV screening, finding the cause of the abnormality often includes testing for HCV infection and is considered case finding rather than screening; therefore, it is outside the scope of this recommendation. In 2010, the overall incidence rate of acute HCV infection was 0.3 cases per 100,000 persons and varied by race or ethnicity. The incidence rate for acute hepatitis C was lowest among persons of Asian or Pacific Islander descent and highest among American Indians and Alaskan natives. Blacks had the highest mortality rates from HCV, at 6.5 to 7.8 deaths per 100,000 persons, according to data from 2004 to 2008.


Clinical

Patient Population Under Consideration

This recommendation applies to all asymptomatic adults without known liver disease or functional abnormalities.

Assessment of Risk

The most important risk factor for HCV infection is past or current injection drug use. Another established risk factor for HCV infection is receipt of a blood transfusion before 1992. Because of the implementation of screening programs for donated blood, blood transfusions are no longer an important source of HCV infection. In contrast, 60% of new HCV infections occur in persons who report injection drug use within the past 6 months.

Additional risk factors include long-term hemodialysis, being born to an HCV-infected mother, incarceration, intranasal drug use, getting an unregulated tattoo, and other percutaneous exposures (such as in health care workers or from having surgery before the implementation of universal precautions). Evidence on tattoos and other percutaneous exposures as risk factors for HCV infection is limited. The relative importance of these additional risk factors may differ on the basis of geographic location and other factors.

Large population-based studies report an independent association between high-risk sexual behaviors (multiple sex partners, unprotected sex, or sex with an HCV-infected person or injection drug user) and HCV infection. However, HCV seems to be inefficiently transmitted through sexual contact, and observed associations may have been confounded by other high-risk behaviors.

In 1998, the highest prevalence rates of the anti-HCV antibody occurred in persons with significant direct percutaneous exposures, such as injection drug users and persons with hemophilia (60% to 90%); persons with less significant percutaneous exposures involving smaller amounts of blood, such as patients receiving hemodialysis (10% to 30%), had more moderate prevalence rates. Persons engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors (1% to 10%); recipients of blood transfusions (6%); and persons with infrequent percutaneous exposures, such as health care workers (1% to 2%), had the lowest prevalence rates.Among patients with abnormal results on liver function tests (measurement of aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase, or bilirubin) who were tested for reasons other than HCV screening, finding the cause of the abnormality often includes testing for HCV infection and is considered case finding rather than screening; therefore, it is outside the scope of this recommendation.

In 2010, the overall incidence rate of acute HCV infection was 0.3 cases per 100,000 persons and varied by race or ethnicity. The incidence rate for acute hepatitis C was lowest among persons of Asian or Pacific Islander descent and highest among American Indians and Alaskan natives. Blacks had the highest mortality rates from HCV, at 6.5 to 7.8 deaths per 100,000 persons, according to data from 2004 to 2008.

Birth-Cohort Screening

Persons born between 1945 and 1965 are more likely to be diagnosed with HCV infection, possibly because they received blood transfusions before the introduction of screening in 1992 or have a history of other risk factors for exposure decades earlier. Many persons with chronic HCV infection are unaware of their condition. A risk-based approach may miss detection of a substantial proportion of HCV-infected persons in the birth cohort because of a lack of patient disclosure or knowledge about prior risk status. As a result, 1-time screening for HCV infection in the birth cohort may identify infected patients at earlier stages of disease who could benefit from treatment before developing complications from liver damage.

The USPSTF concluded that the benefit of screening for HCV infection in persons in the birth cohort is probably similar to that in persons at higher risk for infection. Birth-cohort screening is probably less efficient than risk-based screening, meaning more persons will need to be screened to identify 1 patient with HCV infection. Nevertheless, the overall number of Americans who will probably benefit from birth-cohort screening is greater than the number who will benefit from risk-based screening.

The USPSTF recognizes that increased screening and the resulting increased diagnoses and treatment could result in increased overall harms because not all treated persons will benefit from treatment, including those who will never develop signs or symptoms of disease (overdiagnosis). The USPSTF weighed this potential harm against the potential harm of undertreatment attributable to underdiagnosis. It is hoped that future research will reduce overtreatment by clarifying which persons are most likely to benefit from early diagnosis and treatment. However, given that persons in the birth cohort have been living with HCV infection for 20 or more years, the potential benefit of screening and early treatment will probably be at its highest now and in the near future before becoming smaller. After weighing the competing harms of overtreatment and underdiagnosis, the USPSTF recommends 1-time screening for this cohort.

Screening Tests

Anti–HCV antibody testing followed by polymerase chain reaction testing for viremia is accurate for identifying patients with chronic HCV infection. Various noninvasive tests with good diagnostic accuracy are possible alternatives to liver biopsy for diagnosing fibrosis or cirrhosis.

Screening Intervals

Persons in the birth cohort and those who are at risk because of potential exposure before universal blood screening and are not otherwise at increased risk need only be screened once. Persons with continued risk for HCV infection (injection drug users) should be screened periodically. The USPSTF found no evidence about how often screening should occur in persons who continue to be at risk for new HCV infection.

Screening Implementation

The USPSTF believes that screening should be voluntary and undertaken only with the patient's knowledge and understanding that HCV testing is planned. Patients should be informed orally or in writing that HCV testing will be performed unless they decline (opt-out screening). The USPSTF further believes that before HCV screening, patients should receive an explanation of HCV infection, how it can (and cannot) be acquired, the meaning of positive and negative test results, and the benefits and harms of treatment. Patients should also be offered the opportunity to ask questions and to decline testing.

Treatment

The purpose of antiviral treatment regimens is to prevent long-term health complications of chronic HCV infection (such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and hepatocellular carcinoma).

The combination of pegylated interferon (α2a or α2b) and ribavirin is the standard treatment for HCV infection. In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the protease inhibitors boceprevir and telaprevir for the treatment of HCV genotype 1 infection (the predominant genotype in the United States). Trials have found increased SVR rates in patients with HCV genotype 1 infection who received triple therapy consisting of pegylated interferon, ribavirin, and boceprevir or telaprevir compared with dual therapy consisting of pegylated interferon and ribavirin. Evidence is lacking on the comparative effects of current antiviral treatments on long-term clinical outcomes. Regimens with protease inhibitors are usually of shorter duration than dual therapy (24 or 28 weeks vs. 48 weeks). Triple therapy with protease inhibitors is associated with an increased risk for hematologic events (such as anemia; neutropenia; and thrombocytopenia, particularly with boceprevir) and rash (telaprevir) compared with dual therapy. These adverse events are self-limited and typically resolve after the discontinuation of treatment.

Other Considerations

Research Needs and Gaps

As treatment of HCV continues to evolve, more research is needed to understand which persons benefit the most from treatment and when treatment should begin in asymptomatic persons. Research is needed on the outcomes of treatment in screen-detected patients and on treatment decisions guided by “noninvasive” assessment of cirrhosis and fibrosis because these patients may differ from those enrolled in treatment trials or described in prospective cohort studies. In addition, research should focus on the long-term harms associated with antiviral regimens. Other areas of needed research include frequency of testing in high-risk populations; demonstrating individual or public health benefits from counseling, immunizations, and behavioral changes after an HCV diagnosis in asymptomatic patients; the effect of antiviral treatments on quality of life; and the comparative effectiveness of antiviral treatments in patients with various medical and psychological comorbid conditions.

Rationale

No information available.


Others

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the American College of Gastroenterology recommend screening in higher-risk patients. The CDC now recommends screening in high-risk patients and age cohort–based screening for HCV in all persons born between 1945 and 1965. Previous recommendations on screening for hepatitis C by the American Academy of Family Physicians, which is currently updating its recommendations, have been consistent with those of the USPSTF.


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