The use of rapid hepatitis C virus tests could be a powerful tool for conducting hepatitis C screening, conveying prevention information, and initiating treatment in a population with high prevalence of hepatitis C infection, according to a study of persons at increased risk for infection in Wisconsin.

An estimated 3.2 million persons in the United States are infected with hepatitis C. Most new hepatitis C transmissions occur among injection drug users, often within the first few years of their injection drug use. During 2003–2012, reports of hepatitis C infection increased from 15 to 54 cases per 100,000 among persons under age 30 years in Wisconsin, and 58 percent of persons in this age group with acute hepatitis C reported injecting drugs.

To increase hepatitis C detection, the Wisconsin Division of Public Health piloted a program during October 2012–October 2013 that offered rapid hepatitis C testing to persons with drug dependence. Of these, 20 percent had positive hepatitis C test results—72 percent of the infections had not been reported previously—and 70 percent of those that tested positive had active infection.

The study found that use of the rapid test detected previously unreported infections and raised awareness of hepatitis C. Persons identified with active hepatitis C infection should be referred to medical care and counseled on ways to prevent transmission to others.

1. Stockman LJ, Guilfoyle SM, Benoit AL, et al. Rapid Hepatitis C Testing Among Persons at Increased Risk for Infection — Wisconsin, 2012–2013. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2014; 63(14): 309-311 (open access)