Hepatitis C prevalence in prisons lower than previously estimated

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | March 6, 2014

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Melva Robertson
404-727-5692
melva.robertson@emory.edu

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Nationally, 17.4 percent of all prisoners have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus.

Correctional populations bear a declining yet sizable number of cases in the hepatitis C epidemic, according to Emory researchers at the Rollins School of Public Health. Nationally, 17.4 percent of all prisoners have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus. A decade ago, it was estimated that up to 25 percent of prisoners had been infected with the virus.

Lead researcher Anne Spaulding, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, and team estimated hepatitis C cases among all US correctional populations. They based estimates on data from states that have routinely tested inmates for hepatitis C.  Approximately 1.4 million persons in the United States with active hepatitis C infection are in a jail or prison at some point over the course of a year.

"These findings are very significant at this time due to the conversation about the new hepatitis C drugs on the market," explains Spaulding. "Although the new drugs cost up to $1,000 a pill, and each course of treatment will be about $100,000 per person, they are much more effective than previous regimens--some regimens cure over 90 percent of patients. If the number of persons needing treatment is lower than previously thought, undertaking treatment is less daunting. 

Complete findings are available in the March-April edition of the journal, Public Health Reports.

"In a hypothetical prison system of 10,000 inmates, treating 1,740 individuals would cost $174 million, which is not a bargain," says Spaulding. "It is, however, less than the estimated $250 million projected using previous figures for prevalence."