A new Quest Diagnostics Health Trends® report developed in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the COVID-19 pandemic reduced routine hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing and treatment. The study was published online today in American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
The study builds on an ongoing collaboration between Quest and CDC to study viral hepatitis infections and support the goal to eliminate hepatitis C in the United States. It is also the first large scale study by Quest Diagnostics to analyze patterns in hepatitis C virus antibody screening and RNA diagnostic testing along with prescription treatments, providing insights into the interplay of laboratory testing and therapy.
The study underscores that people living with undiagnosed hepatitis C could develop more advanced disease prior to eventually confirming their infection status, including cirrhosis and liver cancers, leading to higher rates of morbidity and death. Further, people living with undiagnosed HCV infections may continue to unknowingly transmit the virus to others. According to CDC, people with chronic hepatitis C can often have no symptoms and don't feel sick. When symptoms appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease.
According to the findings:
- HCV antibody testing (used to screen for potential active HCV infection) volume decreased 59% during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic (April 2020) and rebounded to a 6% reduction in July, compared with the same months in 2018 and 2019
- The number of HCV RNA (used to diagnose active HCV infection) positive results fell by 62% in March 2020 and remained 39% below the same months in 2018 and 2019
- For hepatitis C treatment, prescriptions decreased 43% in May, 37% in June, and 38% in July of 2020, relative to the corresponding months in 2018 and 2019
- Although HCV antibody screening rebounded close to the 2019 (pre-pandemic) volume, in June and July 2020, HCV RNA confirmed positives (diagnoses) and HCV treatments remained nearly 40% below the corresponding months of 2019
"This analysis adds to other studies that demonstrate that lack of access to testing and care in 2020 during the height of the pandemic means many individuals did not receive important diagnostic test and screenings, said Harvey W. Kaufman, M.D., Senior Medical Director, Head of the Health Trends Research Program for Quest Diagnostics, and the report's lead author. "It's important we communicate the need to bring Hepatitis C virus testing and treatment above pre-pandemic levels to identify people who have delayed or skipped healthcare services. Fortunately, HCV infection is now a curable condition and taking an HCV antibody screening test is the first step."