An urban hospital that initiated a hepatitis C testing protocol in its emergency department saw high rates of the infectious disease among intravenous drug users, most of whom did not know they had the illness, according to a study published this week.
The protocol mainly targeted patients in groups believed to be at high risk of hepatitis C infection, and Baby Boomers also showed high rates of infection. Study results were reported online Aug. 4 in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
“Given skyrocketing rates of injection heroin use around the country, we expect the already high rates of hepatitis C infection to explode,” said Douglas White, MD, lead author of the study, who works at Highland Hospital in the Alameda Health System in Oakland, Calif.
A total of 10.3% of the patients who were tested in the study tested positive for the hepatitis C virus; 70% of those were considered to be chronically infected. Just over three-quarters of the infected patients had been unaware of their infection status, highlighting the potential importance of screening in emergency medical settings.