Nearly 4% of Veterans Affairs patients who screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use were infected with hepatitis C virus, and 64% of these patients were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, according to the results of a large database analysis.
Despite the fact that alcohol use at all levels can compound the adverse effects of HCV and lead to heightened risks of mortality, particularly among those coinfected with HIV, the majority of these patients did not receive specialty addiction treatment, according to, and her colleagues at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle.
In their study, published in, the researchers queried the national VA health care system database, which is made up of 139 large facilities and more than 900 clinics throughout the United States, for all patients with a documented outpatient appointment between October 2009 and May 2013 to identify those with one or more with positive screens on the (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption) questionnaire. Those with AUDIT-C scores greater than or equal to 5 were considered positive, and each positive screen was tracked for up to 1 year to assess alcohol-related care outcomes. The four alcohol-related care outcomes measured were: receipt of brief intervention, specialty addiction treatment, alcohol use disorder (AUD) pharmacotherapy, and a composite measure of receiving any of these services.
Patients also were compared across HCV status in the entire sample of patients with positive screening as well as in the subsample with a clinically documented AUD.
During the study period, 830,825 VA patients screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use. Among those, 31,841 (3.8%) patients had a documented diagnosis for HCV, and of these 20,320 (64%) had an AUD. Two-thirds of these AUD patients did not receive specialty addiction treatment, and more than 90% did not receive pharmacotherapy that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat AUD, according to the researchers. “These rates are concerning given the negative impact alcohol use can have on HCV,” they wrote.
They reiterated the importance of the 2016 change in policy adopted by the VA Health System, which updated its treatment guidelines to recommend that all patients with HCV be considered for treatment, regardless of substance use, and explicitly stated that alcohol use and length of abstinence should not be disqualifiers for receiving HCV treatment.
“All patients with HCV should be receiving evidence-based alcohol-related care given the risks of alcohol use in this population, particularly among those coinfected with HIV,” the researchers concluded.
The research was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The authors reported that they had no conflicts of interest.