Newly Infected HIV Patients Have Low Prevalence of Hep C Co-Infection

The World Health Organization indicates that 35 million individuals have HIV worldwide, and 4 to 5 million HIV-infected patients are co-infected with hepatitis C virus.

The World Health Organization indicates that 35 million individuals have HIV worldwide, and 4 to 5 million HIV-infected patients are co-infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV).

The likelihood of co-infection is linked closely to intravenous (IV) drug use, more often than risky sexual activities. Regardless, it is possible to contract HCV through sexual activity.

Some factors that increase the risk of sexually transmitted HCV include being a man who has sex with men (MSM), having unprotected and traumatic sexual intercourse with multiple partners, non-injection drug use, and sexually transmitted infections that break the mucosal barrier.

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine and the Los Angeles LGBT Center recently published a study describing the co-prevalence of HCV with HIV in newly infected patients in the Los Angeles area.

Their study, which appears online in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases, revealed that the co-infection rate was lower than expected.

The researchers included Los Angeles LGBT Center clients who were recently infected with HIV in the last year or who were newly diagnosed, at least 18 years of age, male, and reported sex with a male partner in the past year.

They extracted RNA from plasma samples from these patients with a history of substance use and sexual contact with men, based on the survey. The patients were also screened for HCV.

The study found a lower rate of HCV co-infection (1.6%) than expected. In other studies, rates have fallen in the range of 6% to 15.7% in MSM cohorts.

The researchers noted that their study sample tended to be younger than other study samples (the mean age was around 28 years old), so participants may have had fewer HCV exposures, lower rates of IV drug use (6.6% in the past year), and relatively intact immune systems.

HCV infection may have also been underestimated because HCV RNA screening fails to detect cleared HCV infections.

HCV co-infected patients in the cohort all had methamphetamine (and other non-injection) drug use history and risky sexual practices.

The researchers suggested targeted preventive outreach to the newly diagnosed HIV minority MSM community. Reaching these men could decrease the HCV co-infection rate, they hypothesized.