Hepatitis C declines among people who inject drugs

Hepatitis C declines among people who inject drugs

Sydney, Australia (14 June, 2013)- A 15-year study of people who inject drugs in Australia found a significant decline in new cases of hepatitis C virus.

In the largest national study of its kind, researchers from the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, examined data provided by nearly 36,000 participants in the Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey between 1995 and 2010 and found the number of new cases of hepatitis C declined by more than half. Their findings are reported in the American Journal of Public Health, published online today.

“The decline in new cases of hepatitis C among people who inject drugs coincided with the expansion of programs like opioid substitution therapy and needle and syringe programs, which aim to minimise the spread of blood borne viruses,” said Jenny Iversen, the study’s first author and a PhD candidate at the Kirby Institute. “We also found that fewer young people are starting to inject drugs and that the types of drugs people are injecting have changed, which may have contributed to a decline in the number of people contracting the virus.”  

Hepatitis C is one of the most commonly reported notifiable diseases in Australia. Around 226,000 people are living with chronic hepatitis C and just over 10,000 new cases are reported every year. The virus can lead to serious liver complications such as liver failure or cancer, and places a large burden of care on the health system. Among people with hepatitis C, drug-related deaths have declined since 2000, but liver-related deaths continue to increase due to the ageing nature of the affected population and low treatment uptake.

“The study findings are incredibly encouraging,” said Stuart Loveday, President of Hepatitis Australia. “The results suggest that efforts to stop the spread of hepatitis C among at-risk populations, using strategies like needle and syringe programs and opioid substitution therapy, are working. But it’s important to note that we still have a lot of work to do and funding for these types of efforts must be sustained in order to maintain the progress we’ve made in Australia.”

“These results demonstrate the value of on-going investment in Australia’s internationally recognised system for the surveillance of HIV and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs,” said Professor Lisa Maher, head of the Viral Hepatitis Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the Kirby Institute and senior author and principal investigator of the study. “This is the first time in the world this method has been used to estimate hepatitis C incidence and the first report of incidence in a national sample of people who inject drugs. It allows us to assess the uptake and impact of prevention and treatment interventions in this group.”

The Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing and supported by all State and Territory governments.

The study, Reduction in hepatitis c virus incidence among injection drug users attending needle and syringe programs in Australia: a linkage study, is available online at: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/

About the Kirby Institute:
The Kirby Institute for infection and immunity in society is a centre of the University of New South Wales. Formerly the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, established in 1986, the Kirby Institute is an infectious diseases research organisation which focuses on those diseases of behaviour which affect marginalised, disempowered and other communities.

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Laurie Legere
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Date published: 
Friday, 14 June 2013
Laurie Legere
+61 413 476 647