Introduction: Studies have explored whether spontaneous clearance of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection decreases the likelihood of reinfection or increases the probability of clearance. This analysis investigates whether the conflicting findings from these studies could be due to differences in frequency of HCV RNA testing.
Methods: A model simulated the dynamics of HCV reinfection and clearance among a cohort of injection drug users. For different reinfection incidence and clearance rates, the model evaluated the accuracy of epidemiological studies that used different HCV testing frequencies.
Results: Experimental estimates for the reinfection incidence and clearance probability will be accurate (<20% error) if the testing interval is less than the reinfection clearance duration. Otherwise, experimental estimates can greatly underestimate the real values (≤66% error if reinfection duration is 1 month and the testing interval is 3 months). Uncertainty in experimental estimates also increases at lower reinfection incidences, whereas for lower clearance probabilities the uncertainty in the estimated clearance probability increases but estimated reinfection incidence decreases.
Discussion: Differences in HCV testing interval could account for most between-study variability in the estimated probability of clearing reinfections and is likely to have biased reinfection incidence estimates. Our findings suggest that a high reinfection clearance probability (>75%) is consistent with data.