A recent study published in the journal Health Affairs surveyed 50 state departments of correction to determine the scope of the burden of the hepatitis C epidemic on prisons and prison populations. Hepatitis C is the most common bloodborne viral infection in the United States and was a cause of more deaths in 2013 than sixty other infectious diseases combined, including HIV, pneumococcal disease and tuberculosis.
The authors report that the prevalence of hepatitis C infection in the state prison populations is 17 percent, compared to 1 percent of the non-institutionalized. Providing treatment to inmates is an opportunity to curtail the epidemic both within prisons and in the population at large, once inmates are released from prisons. While new, effective antiviral treatments are available, the cost is very expensive (median prices range from $65-$75K for a 12-week course of treatment for one individual), especially for state prison systems that do not receive the same negotiated drug discounts available to the federal prison system. The study found that less than one percent of inmates in state correctional facilities known to have hepatitis C were receiving any treatment.
They also found that there is a trend of increased reporting on the number of inmates infected with and receiving treatment for hepatitis C, and an increase in the number of states offering routine hepatitis C testing. Many states are working to enroll prisoners in Medicaid upon their release, to help them receive treatment outside of the correctional setting.
The study recommends that state prison systems work to acquire discounts directly from pharmaceutical companies in order to treat more prisoners. Helping inmates transition to healthcare providers after they are released will also help curtail the number of prisoners who are released with the virus. Overall, the study suggests that treating and curing hepatitis C should be a high priority within state correctional settings but can only be done with efforts to increase funding and obtaining purchasing discounts.