Risk behaviors and antibody hepatitis B and C prevalence among injecting drug users in south-western Sydney, Australia

Lisa Maher, Kerry Chant, Bin Jalaludin, Penny Sargent
Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2004, 19 (10): 1114-20

BACKGROUND AND AIM: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is now the leading notifiable disease in Australia. The current study aimed to determine the prevalence of HCV and hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and associated risk behaviors among injecting drug users (IDUs) screened in south-western Sydney as part of a multisite prospective cohort study.

METHODS: Using a combination of snowball sampling and word-of-mouth recruitment strategies, 377 IDUs were interviewed using a structured questionnaire and tested for exposure to HCV and HBV. Entry criteria were injecting drug use in the previous 6 months and antibody HCV serostatus not known to be positive.

RESULTS: More than one-third (36.6%) tested HCV antibody positive and one-quarter (28%) had been exposed to HBV. Independent predictors of HCV seropositivity were HBV core antibody positive serostatus, incarceration in the past year, injecting in public, Asian ethnicity and duration of injecting. Individual risk behaviors, including sharing needles and syringes, sharing other injecting equipment and being injected by others, were not significant in either bivariate or multivariate models.

CONCLUSIONS: Results indicate an urgent need for structural interventions designed to reduce the exposure of IDUs, particularly indigenous Australian and Asian injectors, to risk environments. Structural interventions, including population-based hepatitis B immunization, expanded access to needle and syringe programs and drug treatment, prison diversion programs and medically supervised injecting facilities, should be incorporated into existing blood-borne virus prevention efforts.

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