Prisoner populations are characterised by engagement in risk behaviours, most notably injecting drug use. Consequently they are at an increased risk of exposure to bloodborne viruses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Previous Australian research has shown that hepatitis C is between thirty to forty times higher among prisoners compared with the general community. Surveillance of this population is important to monitor trends in the prevalence of bloodborne viruses and changes over time in risk behaviours.
The first National Prison Entrants' Bloodborne Virus Survey (NPEBBVS) was conducted in 2004 and this is the fourth iteration of this study, the 2013 national report.
- The final sample consisted of 793 participants. The overall response rate to the survey was 64%.
- As in 2010, no cases of HIV were detected among those prisoners screened in 2013.
- Rates of sexually transmissible infections were no higher than in the general population – chlamydia (5% of men, 4% of women), and gonorrhoea (only one male participant tested positive). For syphilis, around 1% of men and 1% of women had markers consistent with past or present infection. While 1% of all those tested had markers indicating possible current infection with syphilis, only 3 individuals (2 men and 1 woman) had serological markers suggesting possible current infection.
- Less than half of those screened in 2013 reported they had ever injected drugs (45%), which is similar to 2010 (44%). Of those with a history of injecting, 67% had injected in the past month.
- Tobacco smoking is at epidemic proportions among prisoners with almost 9 out of 10 prisoners reporting they currently smoke and no apparent downward trend in the numbers who report they are current smokers. Effective smoking cessation programs that sustain cessation in the community are needed for this population.