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Hepatology. 2013 Mar;57(3):944-52. doi: 10.1002/hep.26113. Epub 2013 Feb 15.

A simple strategy to identify acute hepatitis C virus infection among newly incarcerated injection drug users.

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Division of Infectious Diseases, Gastrointestinal Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Harvard University Center for AIDS Research, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is underdiagnosed because most patients are asymptomatic. The majority of new infections occur among people who inject drugs (PWID), many of whom have a history of incarceration. In a previous pilot study, we identified symptomatic HCV cases, mainly among Caucasian inmates. We designed a cross-sectional study to evaluate whether risk factor-based screening of newly incarcerated inmates would enhance identification of asymptomatic acute HCV infection and elucidate any demographic shifts in HCV acquisition. From October 2006 to March 2008, 6,342 inmates underwent health assessments and 3,470 inmates (55%) were screened. The racial distribution was as follows: African American, 24.0%; Caucasian, 49.5%; Hispanic, 22.2%. One hundred seventy-one inmates (4.9%) were classified as high-risk. After further evaluation, 35 (20.5%) inmates were diagnosed with acute HCV with a mean age of 29 years; 62.9% were female and 91% were Caucasian. No African Americans were diagnosed with acute HCV. Our case-finding rate was 1.9 patients/month nearly a three-fold increase compared with our historical control period with a higher proportion of asymptomatic cases. We estimate a prevalence of ∼1.0% (95% confidence interval, 0.7%-1.4%) of acute HCV infections among newly incarcerated inmates.


Within the correctional system, systematic screening based on risk factors successfully identifies acute HCV infection among PWID, including asymptomatic patients. Our data also reflect changing nationwide patterns of injection drug use that vary by age, ethnicity, and race, leading to a marked reduction of acute HCV infections among African Americans compared with non-Hispanic whites. The nationwide implementation of this simple low-cost strategy in prison-based settings could identify more than 7,000 acute HCV infections among PWID, provide insight into changing epidemiologic trends, and facilitate appropriate therapeutic and preventive interventions.

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