Many persons infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) are unknown to the healthcare system because they may be asymptomatic for years, have not been tested for HCV infection, and only seek medical care when they develop liver-related complications. We analyzed data from persons who tested positive for past or current HCV infection during participation in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001 through 2008. A follow-up survey was conducted 6 months after examination to determine (1) how many participants testing positive for HCV infection were aware of their HCV status before being notified by NHANES, (2) what actions participants took after becoming aware of their first positive test, and (3) participants' knowledge about hepatitis C. Of 30,140 participants tested, 393 (1.3%) had evidence of past or current HCV infection and 170 (43%) could be contacted during the follow-up survey and interviewed. Only 49.7% were aware of their positive HCV infection status before being notified by NHANES, and only 3.7% of these respondents reported that they had first been tested for HCV because they or their doctor thought they were at risk for infection. Overall, 85.4% had heard of hepatitis C; correct responses to questions about hepatitis C were higher among persons 40-59 years of age, white non-Hispanics, and respondents who saw a physician after their first positive HCV test. Eighty percent of respondents indicated they had seen a doctor about their first positive HCV test result.
Conclusion: These data indicate that fewer than half of those infected with HCV may be aware of their infection. The findings suggest that more intensive efforts are needed to identify and test persons at risk for HCV infection.
Copyright © 2012 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.