Background: No previous studies have examined the extent to which correctional facilities in the United States screen for and treat hepatitis C (HCV) infection.
Methods: Medical directors of state correctional facilities responded to a survey assessing the degree to which prisons screen for and treat hepatitis C. To estimate numbers of inmates eligible for interferon treatment and to examine costs associated with HCV management, we constructed a feasibility model that incorporated screening criteria used in California and Rhode Island.
Results: Thirty-six states and Washington, DC, responded, resulting in a survey response rate of 73%, representing 77% of all inmates in state facilities nationwide. Colorado alone reported routine screening. Only California reported conducting a systematic seroprevalence study, which found that 39.4% of male inmates were hepatitis C antibody positive in 1994. Seventy-three percent of the respondents sometimes consider treating with interferon. Four states follow a standard protocol. The feasibility model suggests that treating suitably screened inmates is a reasonable expenditure for correctional systems.
Conclusion: Prison may be an appropriate setting for treatment of hepatitis C. If accompanying substance abuse issues are addressed, instituting HCV treatment for certain eligible incarcerated individuals may be a worthy target for public health dollars.