Publications & Reports

Impact of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions on hepatitis C testing in Australian primary care services providing care for people who inject drugs.

Traeger MW, van Santen DK, Sacks-Davis R, Asselin J, Carter A, Doyle JS, Pedrana A, Wilkinson AL, Howell J, Thatcher R, Didlick J, Donovan B, Guy R, Hellard ME, Stoové MA; Australia Collaboration for Coordinated Enhanced Sentinel Surveillance of Sexually Transmissible Infections and Blood Borne Viruses (ACCESS).
Burnet Institute, Melbourne, Australia.

Abstract

The state of Victoria has been the jurisdiction most affected by COVID-19 in Australia. In 2020 the state experienced two lockdowns, starting in March and July, respectively. Lockdowns may impact progress towards eliminating hepatitis C through reductions in hepatitis C testing. To examine the impact of lockdowns on hepatitis C testing in Victoria, de-identified data were extracted from a network of eleven services that specialise in the care of people who inject drugs (PWID). Interrupted time-series analyses estimated weekly changes in hepatitis C antibody and RNA testing from 1(st) January 2019 to 14(th) May 2021 and described temporal changes in testing associated with lockdowns. Interruptions were defined at the weeks corresponding to the start of the first lockdown (week 14) and the start (week 80) and end (week 95) of the second lockdown. Pre-COVID, an average of 80.6 antibody and 25.7 RNA tests were performed each week. Following the first lockdown in Victoria there was an immediate drop of 23.2 antibody tests and 8.6 RNA tests per week (equivalent to a 31% and 46% drop, respectively). Following the second lockdown there was an immediate drop of 17.2 antibody tests and 4.6 RNA tests per week (equivalent to a 26% and 33% drop, respectively). With testing and case finding identified as a key challenge to Australia achieving hepatitis C elimination targets, the cumulative number of testing opportunities missed during lockdowns may prolong efforts to find, diagnose and engage or reengage in care the remaining population of PWID living with hepatitis C.

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