Treating Hepatitis C in Prison Population Could Limit Spread

Targeted intervention programs could offer significant benefits in HCV prevention.

Focused treatment interventions could help drastically limit the spread of hepatitis C virus (HCV), especially among the prison population, a recent study indicates.

The study, recently published online in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, found that approximately 1 in 9 HCV patients in Canada spend time incarcerated annually, which allows the opportunity for focused HCV prevention and control efforts among these individuals.

Researchers noted that incarcerated individuals face greater risk factors for HCV, which includes injection drug use and needle sharing while in prison and within the general population outside of prison walls.

"Incarcerated individuals are more likely to be infected with hepatitis C and more likely to continue the transmission cycle because of their involvement in risky behaviors such as sharing needles," said Dr. Fiona Kouyoumdjian, of the Centre for Research on Inner City Health of St. Michael's Hospital. "Time in custody is a unique opportunity for health-care workers to offer prevention activities to people who may otherwise be difficult to reach."

Researchers presented the following potential prevention efforts that may help limit the spread of HCV in correctional facilities:

  • Introducing needle exchange programs in correctional facilities.
  • Improving access to opioid substitution therapy and other drug treatments, which previous research has shown to prevent hepatitis C infection in injection drug users.
  • Offering screening for hepatitis C in all correctional facilities.
  • Expanding access to hepatitis C treatment in correctional facilities, when feasible and appropriate.
  • Linking individuals to community-based programs upon their release.

In order for these methods to be effective, researchers said health care services in correctional facilities need to be equivalent to programs available in the community. Furthermore, it was noted incarcerated individuals should be able to access tools needed to improve overall health.

"Any strategy addressing hepatitis C in Canada should include a focus on people who experience incarceration," Dr. Kouyoumdjian said. "Identifying and managing hepatitis C in incarcerated individuals can prevent the progression of the disease in infected individuals, and can have a positive effect in society, by reducing transmission rates and health care costs."