Researchers have found that Covid-19 pandemic has led to a decrease in hospital-wide Hepatitis C (HCV) testing by 50 per cent, and a reduction in new HCV diagnoses by more than 60 per cent.
The study, published in the Journal of Primary Care and Community Health, highlights the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic is having on hospital-wide and ambulatory HCV testing, and the ramifications of this decrease in the identification of the virus.
"The large decrease in HCV screening demonstrates the tradeoffs that occurred between maintaining safety and delivering preventive care services as a result of the health system responses during this pandemic," said study author Heather Sperring from the Boston Medical Centre in the US.
The data for this analysis was collected prospectively from December 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020.
Using descriptive statistics, the analysis was completed by comparing unique patient tests for 3.5-month periods before and after March 16, 2020, analysing total tests and total new HCV RNA positive results before and after, and mean daily tests.
Effective March 16, the team implemented the utilisation of tele-medicine for outpatient clinics wherever possible, preventive care, including phlebotomy for HCV screening, was not performed during this time.
HCV test results for patients were collected each day and comparisons were made for all testing across the hospital, as well as exclusively for the primary care sites that have been the most heavily affected by the introduction of telemedicine.
The study demonstrated a greater impact in primary care clinics where there was a 72 per cent decrease in testing and 63 per cent decrease in new diagnoses.
The findings showed that testing for and diagnoses of HCV were decreased during the Covid-19 surge is alarming.
From the public health perspective, HCV is a transmissible infection that can propagate throughout a population if not detected and treated, the researchers wrote.
"The healthcare impacts of Covid-19 are more widespread than the effects of the disease itself. The pandemic has had substantial implications for our patients, and not just those who contracted Covid-19," the authors wrote.