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Impact of new direct-acting antiviral therapy on the prevalence and undiagnosed proportion of chronic hepatitis C infection


Background — Patients with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) can be cured with the new highly effective interferon-free combination treatments (DAA) that were approved in 2014. However, CHC is a largely silent disease, and many individuals are unaware of their infections until the late stages of the disease. The impact of wider access to effective treatments and improved awareness of the disease on the number of infections and the number of patients who remain undiagnosed is not known in Canada. Such evidence can guide the development of strategies and interventions to reduce the burden of CHC and meet World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2030 elimination targets. The purpose of this study is to use a back-calculation framework informed by provincial population-level health administrative data to estimate the prevalence of CHC and the proportion of cases that remain undiagnosed in the three most populated provinces in Canada: British Columbia (BC), Ontario and Quebec.

Methods — We have conducted a population-based retrospective analysis of health administrative data for the three provinces to generate the annual incidence of newly diagnosed CHC cases, decompensated cirrhosis (DC), hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and HCV treatment initiations. For each province, the data were stratified in three birth cohorts: individuals born prior to 1945, individuals born between 1945 and 1965 and individuals born after 1965. We used a back-calculation modelling approach to estimate prevalence and the undiagnosed proportion of CHC. The historical prevalence of CHC was inferred through a calibration process based on a Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithm. The algorithm constructs the historical prevalence of CHC for each cohort by comparing the model-generated outcomes of the annual incidence of the CHC-related health events against the data set of observed diagnosed cases generated in the retrospective analysis.

Results — The results show a decreasing trend in both CHC prevalence and undiagnosed proportion in BC, Ontario and Quebec. In 2018, CHC prevalence was estimated to be 1.23% (95% CI: .96%–1.62%), .91% (95% CI: .82%–1.04%) and .57% (95% CI: .51%–.64%) in BC, Ontario and Quebec respectively. The CHC undiagnosed proportion was assessed to be 35.44% (95% CI: 27.07%–45.83%), 34.28% (95% CI: 26.74%–41.62%) and 46.32% (95% CI: 37.85%–52.80%) in BC, Ontario and Quebec, respectively, in 2018. Also, since the introduction of new DAA treatment in 2014, CHC prevalence decreased from 1.39% to 1.23%, .97% to .91% and .65% to .57% in BC, Ontario and Quebec respectively. Similarly, the CHC undiagnosed proportion decreased from 38.78% to 35.44%, 38.70% to 34.28% and 47.54% to 46.32% in BC, Ontario and Quebec, respectively, from 2014 to 2018.

Conclusions — We estimated that the CHC prevalence and undiagnosed proportion have declined for all three provinces since the new DAA treatment has been approved in 2014. Yet, our findings show that a significant proportion of HCV cases remain undiagnosed across all provinces highlighting the need to increase investment in screening. Our findings provide essential evidence to guide decisions about current and future HCV strategies and help achieve the WHO goal of eliminating hepatitis C in Canada by 2030.



Forouzannia F, Hamadeh A, Passos-Castilho AM, Erman A, Yu A, Feng Z, Janjua NZ, Sander B, Greenaway C, Wong WWL. Liver Int. 2024; Mar 6 [Epub ahead of print].

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