BACKGROUND: Effective screening programs are urgently needed to provide undiagnosed hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected individuals with therapy. This systematic review of characteristics and outcomes of screening programs for HCV focuses on strategies to identify HCV risk groups hidden in the general population.
METHODS: We conducted a comprehensive search of MEDLINE and EMBASE databases for articles published between 1991-2010, including studies that screened the general population using either a newly developed (nonintegrated) screening program or one integrated in existing health care facilities. Look-back studies, prevalence studies, and programs targeting high-risk groups in care (e.g., current drug users) were excluded.
RESULTS: After reviewing 7052 studies, we identified 67 screening programs: 24 nonintegrated; 41 programs integrated in a variety of health care facilities (e.g., general practitioner); and 2 programs with both integrated and nonintegrated strategies. Together, these programs identified approximately 25,700 HCV-infected individuals. In general, higher HCV prevalence was found in programs in countries with intermediate to high HCV prevalence, in psychiatric clinics, and in programs that used a prescreening selection based on HCV risk factors. Only 6 programs used a comparison group for evaluation purposes, and 1 program used theory about effective promotion for screening. Comparison of the programs and their effectiveness was hampered by lack of reported data on program characteristics, clinical follow-up, and type of diagnostic test.
CONCLUSIONS: A prescreening selection based on risk factors can increase the efficiency of screening in low-prevalence populations, and we need programs with comparison groups to evaluate effectiveness. Also, program characteristics such as type of diagnostic test, screening uptake, and clinical outcomes should be reported systematically.