Because of the low prevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the general population, mass screening would be expensive and of low yield. Some researchers advocate targeted screening of persons at elevated HCV risk.
This cross-sectional study aimed to develop a patient-administered tool to assess HCV infection risk. Two hundred seven patients with unknown HCV status from a general medicine practice and 222 HCV-positive patients from a hepatology practice completed a 72-item survey about demographic, social, and clinical risk factors for HCV infection. General medicine patients also underwent HCV serologic testing.
Three (1.5%) of 207 general medicine patients had positive HCV antibody test results. These patients plus the 222 hepatology patients were significantly more likely than HCV-negative patients to report an array of factors. In a multivariable model, 7 factors remained significantly associated with HCV infection: sex with a prostitute or an injecting drug user, exposure to blood products, refusal as a blood donor or as a life insurance applicant, witnessing illicit drug use, and self-reported HBV infection. A simplified model that assigned 1 point for each factor present predicted HCV infection as well as a weighted model (based on χ2 testing and receiver operating characteristic curve comparison). In a population with a 2% prevalence of HCV infection, people who identified 2 risk factors had a 10% chance of HCV infection, whereas those with 4 or more risk factors had a 50% chance.
A self-administered 72-item questionnaire can stratify patients into HCV risk groups. If validated in other primary care populations, this instrument could help target HCV screening.