Institute of Digestive Disease, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
BACKGROUND AND AIM:
Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma worldwide. It is highly prevalent among injection drug users (IDUs) but is often undiagnosed because they represent an underprivileged group that faces multiple barriers to medical care. Here we report the results of the New Life New Liver Project, which provides targeted HCV screening and education for ex-IDUs in the community.
Patients were recruited through the social worker networks and referrals by fellow ex-IDUs, and rapid diagnosis was based on point-of-care anti-HCV testing at rehabilitation centers.
From 2009 to 2012, we served 234 subjects. 130 (56%) subjects were anti-HCV positive. The number needed to screen to detect 1 patient with positive anti-HCV was 1.8 (95% confidence interval, 1.6-2.0). However, only 69 (53%) HCV patients attended subsequent follow-up at regional hospitals, and 26 (20%) received antiviral therapy. Patients who attended follow-up were older, had higher education level and more active disease as evidenced by higher alanine aminotransferase, HCV RNA and liver stiffness measurement by transient elastography.
Targeted screening in ex-IDUs is effective in identifying patients with HCV infection in the community. Improvement in the referral system and introduction of interferon-free regimens are needed to increase treatment uptake.