In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended hepatitis C virus (HCV) screening for those born between 1945 and 1965. Prior recommendations endorsed screening based on risk factors (RFs). Because United States (US) military retirees have had at least 20 years of access to free comprehensive health care, mandatory physical fitness tests, periodic health assessments and mandatory drug screening, we hypothesized that the prevalence of HCV amongst military retirees is lower than the national average. Thus the new CDC screening guidelines may not be applicable or cost effective in this particular population.
A quality improvement (QI) initiative implemented the new birth-cohort CDC screening guidelines for the internal medicine (IM) clinic of our hospital (QI group). An age-matched group from the same IM clinic, screened based on RFs for HCV infection, served as the comparator (RF group). The prevalence of the anti-HCV antibody and chronic infection was determined and compared with each other and with the national average.
The prevalence of the HCV antibody was 2.1% and 2.3% in the QI and RF groups, respectively (odds ratio (OR): 1.08, 95% CI: 0.37 - 3.21, P = 1.000). The prevalence of chronic infection was 0.4% and 1.8% in the QI and RF groups, respectively (OR: 4.39, 95% CI: 0.80 - 24.13, P = 0.083). When our data were compared with the national average, there were no statistical differences in the prevalence of the HCV antibody; however, there was statistically more viral clearance, and subsequently less chronic infection, in the QI group versus the national average.
The military retiree population did not have a lower prevalence of the HCV antibody than the American populace whether screened based on age or traditional RFs. Thus, the CDC guidelines are applicable in this population. One interesting finding of this study is the higher rate of viral clearance in military retirees when compared with the national average. It is therefore possible that military retirees may be more likely to have natural viral eradication than the civilian population.