News from Hepatitis Week of Jan. 26, 2003 / Vol. 3 No. 04

Targeted Hepatitis C Testing Urged for Inmates

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all inmates be tested for the hepatitis C virus if they have engaged in risky behavior that can promote infection such as intravenous drug use.

According to CDC, inmates in jails, prisons and juvenile institutions have an increased risk of being infected with the hepatitis C virus when they enter these facilities.

The recommendations also call for the vaccination of inmates against hepatitis B regardless of how long they are incarcerated and the vaccination against hepatitis A for at-risk inmates.

The CDC estimates that 12 percent to 15 percent of all Americans with the hepatitis B virus and 39 percent of those with hepatitis C virus infections were released from a correctional facility during the previous year.

Published in the January 24 issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the recommendations were developed by a panel of corrections and public health professionals and experts in liver and infectious diseases.

"We believe these recommendations will provide a useful framework for the development of policies by corrections and public health agencies to prevent and control viral hepatitis among inmates of correctional facilities," said Dr. Cindy Weinbaum, CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the report and recommendations.

Weinbaum said the panel recommended targeted testing rather than universal screening of all inmates because self-reported risk factors are very predictive of people testing positive for hepatitis C.

Prior studies have found that only about five to seven percent of inmates entering prison who were tested for hepatitis C would end up in a treatment protocol, according to Weinbaum.

Weinbaum said the problem is not with inmates becoming infected with hepatitis C while they are in prison, but with those who enter prison with the disease and later return to the community untreated.

Other sources: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention