Researchers at the Fenway Institute in Boston have discovered hepatitis C among HIV-positive gay men is at an all-time high.
According to a report published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, the rate of infection among HIV-positive men was 1.6%, the highest ever seen among U.S. men who sleep with men.
The study’s findings also showed that infections were most likely due to sexual risk behavior or non-injecting drug use.
However, there is accumulating evidence of hepatitis C transmissions not linked to injecting drug use among HIV-positive gay men. These infections appear to be due to traumatic sexual practices such as fisting and non-injecting drug use, especially in the context of group sex.
Much of this evidence comes from Europe. However, hepatitis C infections in the absence of injecting drug use have also been reported among HIV-positive gay men in New York and other US cities. But low rates of baseline screening have made it difficult to accurately assess incidence of hepatitis C among HIV-infected gay men in the US.
Scientists studied 1,160 HIV-positive gay men between June 2008 and June 2009. They discovered 6% were co-infected with hepatitis C virus.
“Our findings support the growing body of evidence that the epidemiology of HCV infection may be changing among HIV-infected MSM in the United States,” comment the study’s authors. “In the absence of [injecting drug use] high risk sexual behaviors and non-injecting drug use appear to play an important role in transmission.”
The authors conclude that HIV-positive gay men should be tested annually for hepatitis C and be educated on sexual-risk reduction in relation on to the infection.
While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, it can be managed with medications. It is, however a chronic condition that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer later in life, especially in patients who are HIV-positive.