Increasing the uptake of hepatitis C virus testing among injecting drug users in specialist drug treatment and prison settings by using dried blood spots for diagnostic testing: a cluster randomized controlled trial


Matthew Hickman, Department of Social Medicine, Canynge Hall, University of Bristol, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR, UK. E-mail:


Summary.  The objective of this study was to assess whether introducing dried blood spot testing can increase hepatitis C virus (HCV) diagnostic testing. A cluster randomized controlled trial was conducted. Sites were matched into pairs, with one site in each pair randomly allocated to receive the intervention (training and use of dried blood spot). Data were collected from all sites for 6 months before and 6 months after the start of the intervention. The participants were 22 specialist drug clinics and six prisons in England and Wales. The main outcome measure of this study was percentage point difference in individuals tested for HCV (the difference between the percentage of patients tested 6 months after and 6 months before the introduction of dried blood spot tests). Before the trial, 8% of patients at control and intervention sites had been tested for HCV, with 16 sites testing less than 5% of their caseload. The average percentage point difference between intervention and control sites was 14.5% (95% CI 1.3–28%, paired t-test, P = 0.03); with 13 of the 14 pairs contributing to the positive effect of the intervention (Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-rank-test, P = 0.002). The size of the difference between intervention and control sites varied considerably. The study provides preliminary supporting evidence that dried blood spot testing may increase the uptake of HCV diagnostic testing, by increasing the opportunity for patients to be offered testing. Additional trials with a larger number of sites are justified, ideally in the context of drug and treatment policies that gave clearer priority (and targets) to infection control and testing.