Scientists Divided on Hepatitis C Testing
Many Canadians unknowingly carry the Hepatitis C virus.
You could have it if you’ve ever borrowed someone’s razor or toothbrush, received infected blood, or had a tattoo or body piercing done.
Because many people unknowingly carrying the liver-damaging virus, a new medical guideline recommends that as well as high-risk patients, every Canadian born between 1945 and 1975 should be tested for Hepatitis C.
But not everyone in the medical field thinks that’s a wise idea.
In order to find and diagnose those who are unaware they have Hepatitis C, the Canadian Association for the Study of the Liver says that people born between 1945 and 1975 should be tested because they represent the largest group of people “chronically infected with the virus in Canada.”
“Hepatitis C is a major public health problem in Canada that is underdiagnosed and undertreated,” the guideline reads. “Birth cohort screening would benefit population health outcomes.”
The association recommends new drugs as the treatment.
“The government has removed all restrictions for getting access to these treatments, so every infected person with Hepatitis C in Canada can access therapy,” said Dr. Hemant Shah, co-author of the guideline.
The doctors who issued the guideline told CBC that they do have a relationship with the manufacturers of Hepatitis C drugs, broadly speaking, but said that didn’t influence their stance.
However, a guideline put out last year by another group strongly recommended against screening for Hepatitis C in adults who are not at high risk of contracting the virus.
In their guideline issued primarily for family doctors, the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care said there was no evidence of the effectiveness of Hepatitis C screening, unless the patient was actually showing symptoms or at high risk of contracting the virus.
They came to this conslusion based on the “overall balance between the possible benefits and harms of screening, patient preferences and values related to screening” and also “feasibility, accessibility, resource use and equity.”
The Canadian Association for the Study of the Liver were aware of the Task Force’s work and say in their guideline that there have been advancements since the Task Force’s opposing recommendations, including new drugs.
New drugs might make a difference, but Task Force member Dr. Roland Grad is not won over.
“We really do not know whether these drugs are a cure,” he said. “The cost of screening and treatment would have a dramatic impact on our health care budget, of the order of $1.5 billion.”