NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. – A screening colonoscopy can provide a convenient opportunity to simultaneously test older adults for hepatitis, based on a study of 500 patients, 75% of whom agreed to blood tests for hepatitis A, B, and C.
Adults aged 50-65 years (the "baby boomers") represent a high-risk population for hepatitis, and hepatitis C in particular, because of possible exposure to high-risk activities in their teens and twenties, said Dr. Dawn Sears of Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Tex. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology.
Men make up 70% of chronic hepatitis cases, and they are less likely to see a doctor regularly than women, she noted. "Colorectal cancer screenings are often the only physician encounter for men aged 50 to 60 years," she said.
To increase hepatitis screening in older adults, Dr. Sears and her colleagues tested whether combining hepatitis testing with routine colonoscopy appointments would be effective.
Patients were mailed information about hepatitis along with their instructions for colonoscopy preparation. On the day of their colonoscopies, patients met with a research nurse, signed a consent form, and completed a patient risk form. Blood was drawn for hepatitis screening when the IV was placed prior to the colonoscopy.
A total of 376 of 500 patients (75%) undergoing colonoscopies agreed to hepatitis testing. The study population was 42% male and 58% female. Risk factors in the patients’ histories included high-risk sexual activity, getting a tattoo prior to the year 2000, injecting or snorting drugs, having a blood transfusion before 1992, having a sexual partner with known hepatitis, being a health care worker who had been stuck with a needle, and spending at least 2 days in jail.
None of the patients had hepatitis B surface antigens, and 77% did not have antibodies against hepatitis A and B. Four patients had results suggesting previously undiagnosed hepatitis C, and all four complied with the recommended follow-up polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. One patient had a positive PCR follow-up, and that patient is beginning triple therapy, Dr. Sears said. All patients who were found to have hepatitis C antibodies had risk factors for hepatitis C infection, she noted.
"We should ask about risk factors and consider screening for hepatitis B and C," Dr. Sears said. "Gastroenterologists see most baby boomers at least once. We understand the [test] results, and this provides the highest quality, most efficient health care for our patients."
Dr. Sears said she had no financial conflicts to disclose.