To reduce the rate of hepatitis C in the United States, researchers at the University of Kentucky are exploring a one-hour, one-step diagnosis method to replace today’s multiple-step testing, which can take a couple of days to return results.

The one-step hepatitis C test involves just a drop of blood from a finger prick and can make providing lifesaving medication quicker and easier.

In an Associated Press news release, Jennifer Havens, MPH, PhD, an epidemiologist and the lead author of the University of Kentucky study, said that although the wait time for standard tests may take only one or two days, that’s long enough to lose touch with certain patients, like those who use drugs or are homeless.

Other countries already offer single-visit hepatitis C diagnosis. Jeffrey Weiss, PhD, of New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System, who works with a community hepatitis C outreach program, said, “it’s frankly an embarrassment” that such testing is not available in the United States.

Of the 2.4 million Americans estimated to have hepatitis C, which can lead to liver cancer or the need for an organ transplant, more than 40% don’t know they have the virus. As a result, more than 14,000 people die due to hep C, even though the vast majority of people with the virus can be cured with a daily pill in just two to three months.

The highest prevalence of hepatitis C is seen among those who inject drugs, are homeless or incarcerated, or are uninsured or on Medicaid.

Barriers to treatment for hepatitis C include the cost of antiviral medications to treat the virus, Medicaid restrictions and sobriety requirements. Various pilot programs’ efforts to address these barriers were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The implementation of a national hepatitis program to make testing faster and easier depends on the amount of funding the Biden administration allocates for it.