Sex and drug use driving HCV epidemic among HIV-positive gay men in Australia; other study shows small epidemic in US

Published: February 2, 2011

The hepatitis C epidemic in HIV-positive gay men is being driven by both sexual transmission and injecting drug use, Australian research published in the online edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases suggests. Sexual risk and injecting drug use were reported by HIV-positive gay men newly diagnosed with the virus.

Phylogenetic analysis showed that 51% of infections in gay men could be placed within transmission clusters. No heterosexual injecting drug users were identified in the transmission clusters that involved gay men, suggesting to the investigators that “these networks of HCV [hepatitis C virus transmission] are predominately defined by sexual orientation rather than risk behaviour.”

There were few cases of sexual transmission of hepatitis C in HIV-negative individuals, and in every instance the individual had a partner who was known to be infected with hepatitis C.

Separate US research conducted at HIV treatment centres across the country showed that there is a low incidence of hepatitis C in HIV-positive men. However, 75% of all new diagnoses appeared to be related to sexual risk factors rather than injecting drug use.

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