Introduction: Epidemiologic and modeling studies suggest that between 45 and 70% of individuals with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in Canada remain undiagnosed. The Canadian Association for the Study of the Liver (CASL) recommends one-time screening of baby boomers (1945-1975). Screening programs in the US have shown a very high prevalence of previously undiagnosed HCV among patients seen in the emergency department (ED). We sought to assess the feasibility of implementing a targeted birth-cohort HCV screening program in a Canadian ED setting. Methods: Patients born from 1945 to 1975 presenting to the ED of a downtown Toronto hospital were offered HCV testing. Patients with life-threatening conditions, unable to provide verbal consent in English or intoxication were excluded. Blood samples were collected by finger prick on Dried Blood Spot (DBS) collection cards and tested for anti-HCV antibody with reflex to HCV RNA. Patients with positive HCV RNA were referred to a liver specialist. Results: During a 27-month period (July 2017 - Sept 2019), 8363 patients in the birth cohort presented to the ED during daytime hours. 80% (6714) met eligibility criteria, and 48.4% (3247) were offered testing. Screening was performed by non-medical staff (mean 8/day, median spots on DBS 4). 345 (10.6%) had been previously tested, and 639 (19.7%) declined. 2136 (65.8%) patients underwent testing: median age 58.4 years (40-82), 1117 male (52.3%). Of these, 45 patients (2.1%; 95% CI 1.5%-2.7%) were anti-HCV positive: 32 (76.2%) were HCV RNA positive, 10 (23.8%) negative and 3 not done due to inadequate DBS sample. 26 patients (81.3%) were linked to care and 3 (9.4%) lost to follow-up. HCV prevalence in the ED was significantly higher than the general Canadian population (2.1% vs 0.7%; p < 0.0001) but much lower than reported rates in American EDs (2.1% vs 10.3%; p < 0.0001). Conclusion: Acceptance of HCV screening in the ED birth cohort was high and easily performed using DBS to ensure the majority of positive samples were tested for HCV RNA. Challenges included implementation that limited number of people tested, and linkage to care for HCV positive patients. HCV prevalence among this ED birth cohort was higher than the general population but lower than seen in the ED in the US. This may in part be due to exclusion of individuals with more severe medical issues, refusal by higher risk subgroups, or population and healthcare system differences between countries.
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