By mapping the testing and care of patients with the hepatitis C virus on a continuum, health care providers can get a better picture of the stages at which the disease is being managed effectively and where along the spectrum there may be room for greater improvement, according to a study published in Hepatology.

“This continuum provides a ‘real-life’ snapshot of how this disease is being managed in a major U.S. urban center,” according to the investigators, led by Kendra Viner, Ph.D., of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH). “Many patients are lost at each stage, highlighting the need to raise awareness among health care professionals and at-risk populations about appropriate hepatitis testing, referral, support, and care.”

In a retrospective, population-based study, Dr. Viner and her coinvestigators – all of whom are also with PDPH – examined reports of hepatitis filed in the city between January 2010 and December 2013. During this time, 70% of hepatitis reports were from electronic laboratory reporting (ELR), 25% were from fax or phone reports, and the remaining 5% came from “active case findings.” Investigators also used enhanced surveillance data to find hepatitis cases reported during the study period (Hepatology 2014 ([ doi:10.1002/hep.27584]).

Using population estimates from the 2010 United States Census, the American Community Survey (ACS), and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the authors were also able to estimate hepatitis C (HCV) seroprevalence in certain demographics. The HCV care continuum (HCV-CoC) was defined as follows: stage 1: HCV Ab screening; stage 2: HCV Ab and RNA testing; stage 3: RNA-confirmation and continuing care; stage 4: RNA-confirmation, care, and HCV treatment.

Based on their estimates, Dr. Viner and her associates postulated that of approximately 1,584,848 Philadelphia residents, 47,207 (2.9%) would have HCV, with test results anticipated for 28,990 (61%) of those individuals. Positive HCV results were received for 13,596 individuals, of whom 6,383 (47%) had a positive HCV RNA test. Of these, 1,745 (27%) were in care, and 956 (15%) had received or were currently receiving treatment.

“These findings elucidate how few HCV-infected residents are successfully mobilized from screening through confirmatory testing and into care and treatment,” wrote Dr. Viner and her coauthors. “Understanding and addressing the specific reasons why patients are lost at each stage is critical if public health and clinical care practitioners hope to affect the outcomes of chronic HCV infection.”

In each category of testing and treatment, men presented nearly twice as often as women: 61% vs. 39%, Ab only; 64% vs. 36%, Ab plus RNA; 64% vs. 36%, Ab plus RNA with no antiviral treatment; and 71% vs. 29%, Ab plus RNA with antiviral treatment, respectively (P < .001). Patients aged 45-64 years presented the most often for both genders (P < .001), and blacks and whites were most common in the study population (P < .001).

The investigators noted that their findings were consistent with national estimates, which say that fewer than half of a city’s population would have HCV infections, and that 3%-5% of cases would be underreported, thus possibly explaining some missing cases in their own data.

“To promote movement through the continuum of HCV care, state and local health departments need to devise ways to improve surveillance and enhance screening and linkage and retention in HCV care services,” concluded the authors. “However, none of this can happen effectively without strong federal support and greater efforts to promote an implementation science agenda that pulls on surveillance data to execute the CDC’s recommendation for routine baby boomer and risk-based screening, and enhance the HCV care continuum,” they added.

The authors reported no financial conflicts of interest.