Open Access Research article

Outcomes of hepatitis C screening programs targeted at risk groups hidden in the general population: a systematic review

Freke R Zuure1*, Anouk T Urbanus12, Miranda W Langendam3, Charles W Helsper4, Charlotte HSB van den Berg12, Udi Davidovich1 and Maria Prins12

Author Affiliations

1 Public Health Service of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Infectious Diseases Cluster, P.O. Box 2200, Amsterdam 1000 CE, The Netherlands

2 Center for Infection and Immunology Amsterdam (CINIMA), Academic Medical Center (University of Amsterdam), P.O. Box 22660, Amsterdam 1100 DD, The Netherlands

3 Dutch Cochrane Centre, Academic Medical Center, P.O. Box 22660, Amsterdam 1100 DD, The Netherlands

4 Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, P.O. Box 85500, Utrecht 3508 GA, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:66  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-66

Published: 22 January 2014



Effective screening programs are urgently needed to provide undiagnosed hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected individuals with therapy. This systematic review of characteristics and outcomes of screening programs for HCV focuses on strategies to identify HCV risk groups hidden in the general population.


We conducted a comprehensive search of MEDLINE and EMBASE databases for articles published between 1991–2010, including studies that screened the general population using either a newly developed (nonintegrated) screening program or one integrated in existing health care facilities. Look-back studies, prevalence studies, and programs targeting high-risk groups in care (e.g., current drug users) were excluded.


After reviewing 7052 studies, we identified 67 screening programs: 24 nonintegrated; 41 programs integrated in a variety of health care facilities (e.g., general practitioner); and 2 programs with both integrated and nonintegrated strategies. Together, these programs identified approximately 25,700 HCV-infected individuals. In general, higher HCV prevalence was found in programs in countries with intermediate to high HCV prevalence, in psychiatric clinics, and in programs that used a prescreening selection based on HCV risk factors. Only 6 programs used a comparison group for evaluation purposes, and 1 program used theory about effective promotion for screening. Comparison of the programs and their effectiveness was hampered by lack of reported data on program characteristics, clinical follow-up, and type of diagnostic test.


A prescreening selection based on risk factors can increase the efficiency of screening in low-prevalence populations, and we need programs with comparison groups to evaluate effectiveness. Also, program characteristics such as type of diagnostic test, screening uptake, and clinical outcomes should be reported systematically.

HCV; Testing; Case finding; Case detection; Reporting guidelines