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Eric S. Nussbaum, Kevin Kallmes, Jodi Lowary and Leslie A. Nussbaum


Undiagnosed hepatitis C virus (HCV) and HIV in patients present risks of transmission of bloodborne infections to surgeons intraoperatively. Presurgical screening has been suggested as a protocol to protect surgical staff from these pathogens. The authors sought to determine the incidence of HCV and HIV infection in elective craniotomy patients and analyze the cost-effectiveness of universal and risk factor–specific screening for protection of the surgical staff.


All patients undergoing elective craniotomy between July 2009 and July 2016 at the National Brain Aneurysm Center who did not refuse screening were included in this study. The authors utilized rapid HCV and HIV tests to screen patients prior to elective surgery, and for each patient who tested positive using the rapid HCV or HIV test, qualitative nucleic acid testing was used to confirm active viral load, and risk factor information was collected. Patients scheduled for nonurgent surgery who were found to be HCV positive were referred to a hepatologist for preoperative treatment. The authors compared risk factors between patients who tested positive on rapid tests, patients with active viral loads, and a random sample of patients who tested negative. The authors also tracked the clinical and material costs of HCV and HIV rapid test screening per patient for cost-effectiveness analysis and calculated the cost per positive result of screening all patients and of screening based on all patient risk factors that differed significantly between patients with and those without positive HCV test results.


The study population of patients scheduled for elective craniotomy included 1461 patients, of whom 22 (1.5%) refused the screening. Of the 1439 patients screened, 15 (1.0%) tested positive for HCV using rapid HCV screening; 9 (60%) of these patients had active viral loads. No patient (0%) tested positive for HIV. Seven (77.8%) of the 9 patients with active viral loads underwent treatment with a hepatologist and were referred back for surgery 3–6 months after sustained virologic response to treatment, but the remaining 2 patients (22.2%) required urgent surgery. Of the 9 patients with active viral loads, 1 patient (11%) had a history of both intravenous drug abuse and tattoos. Two of the 9 patients (22%) had tattoos, and 3 (33%) were born within the age-screening bracket (born 1945–1965) recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rates of smoking differed significantly (p < 0.001) between patients who had active viral loads of HCV and patients who were HCV negative, and rates of smoking (p < 0.001) and IV drug abuse (p < 0.01) differed significantly between patients who were HCV rapid-test positive and those who were HCV negative. Total screening costs (95% CI) per positive result were $3,877.33 ($2,348.05–$11,119.28) for all patients undergoing HCV rapid screening, $226.29 ($93.54–$312.68) for patients with a history of smoking, and $72.00 ($29.15–$619.39) for patients with a history of IV drug abuse.


The rate of undiagnosed HCV infection in this patient population was commensurate with national levels. While the cost of universal screening was considerable, screening patients based on a history of smoking or IV drug abuse would likely reduce costs per positive result greatly and potentially provide cost-effective identification and treatment of HCV patients and surgical staff protection. HIV screening found no infected patients and was not cost-effective.