The findings of the study were published in the September issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.
The team measured the prevalence of and identified risk factors associated with hepatitis C virus (HCV) in emergency department (ED) patients.
Adults presenting to an urban university teaching hospital, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were included in the study.
The patients were having blood drawn as part of their routine evaluation, and had an extra tube drawn and tested for HCV.
English-speaking adults, consenting to participate in the survey portion of the study, were administered an in-depth risk factor questionnaire.
A case-control analysis was used to identify risk factors in HCV-positive compared with HCV-negative individuals.
The researchers found that, of 223 blood samples, 17% were positive for antibodies for HCV.
| History of injection drug use dramatically increased risk of HCV infection.
| American Journal of Emergency Medicine |
Some 121 patients agreed to the risk factor survey, 18 (15%) of whom were HCV-positive.
Of the 18 HCV-positive survey participants, 12 new diagnoses of HCV were made.
It was discovered that a history of injection drug use was the most significant risk factor associated with HCV (OR 859).
Dr Judith C. Brillman, of the Department of Emergency Medicine, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, said on behalf of her colleagues, "A high prevalence of HCV is found in selected urban ED patients."
"Most of these patients have a constellation of risk factors including a history of injection drug use," she added.
"Efforts to identify at risk patients for serologic testing and follow-up should be initiated.
"Identifying undiagnosed HCV can lead to interventions to decrease transmission, as well as reduce the morbidity and mortality of disease," she concluded.