Prisoner populations are associated with engaging in high risk behaviours, particularly injecting drug use. Consequently, they are at an increased risk of exposure to bloodborne viruses such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV. Studies have also shown that the correctional environment is a high risk environment for bloodborne virus transmission.
The National Prison Entrants’ Bloodborne Virus Survey is the first nationally coordinated survey of prisoners conducted in Australia. It represents an important move towards recognising the value of conducting surveillance among marginalised groups. The project is an adjunct to the community Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) survey and will enhance the current national surveillance of bloodborne viruses in high-risk populations.
- Nationally, only three male inmates tested positive for HIV infection; all were previously diagnosed cases.
- The overall prevalence of hepatitis C was 34% and among injecting drug users, 56%. Hepatitis C prevalence was highest among injecting drug users in NSW (69%) and lowest in Western Australia (33%).
- Similar rates of hepatitis B core antibody prevalence were detected in New South Wales (23%) and Tasmania (26%); lower rates were found in Western Australia (18%) and Queensland (13%).
- Fifty nine percent of prison entrants screened had a history of injecting drugs; 38% had injected in the month prior to reception into prison.
- In order to establish trends in bloodborne virus prevalence among prison entrants, the survey should be conducted annually across all jurisdictions. A national approach to bloodborne virus surveillance would be beneficial.