Targeted services needed to prevent new Hep C infections

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Targeted services addressing social and health needs are required to prevent new Hepatitis C infections, recent research has suggested.

In a study of more than 1.1 million people tested in British Columbia for the disease from 1990 to 2013, School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) and B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) researchers found that new hepatitis C infection was associated mental health diagnoses, illicit drug use, alcohol abuse problems, and HIV and Hepatitis B co-infections.

Naveed Janjua

SPPH clinical associate professor Naveed Janjua

The odds of a new infection were highest for those born between 1975 and 1984.

The paper, published last month in BMC Infectious Diseases, found that just over 7,000 living people, or 12.7% of cases, had ‘seroconverted’ by 2013, defined in the study as having tested negative for the virus and then positive, deemed a ‘new infection’. Prevalent infections, or those who tested positive initially, had the same associated factors but with lower odds for Hepatitis B co-infection, mental health conditions, and being born after 1975.

Lead author and SPPH clinical associate professor Naveed Janjua said the research showed that people with new infections or associated risk factors needed multiple different services to prevent infection and transmission of the disease.

Integrating services dealing with these factors, such as mental health and harm reduction programs, could help prevent transmission of the disease and improve overall health of individuals, he said. Hepatitis C is a large public health problem in the province, with more than 50,000 people living with the disease, about five times the number of those living with HIV. “It’s a huge burden on our society, as well as on individual’s health.”

Mark Tyndall

SPPH professor Mark Tyndall

Author and SPPH clinical instructor Jason Wong said the research highlights the differences among people living with Hepatitis C, with about 2,000 people in the province diagnosed with the virus every year. Understanding these differences could help the development of targeted, comprehensive prevention programs that addressed the associated social and health issues such as treatment for mental illness and addictions, and stable housing and income, he said.

Author and SPPH Professor Mark Tyndall said Hepatitis C was perhaps the most pressing infectious disease issue facing British Columbia. “As it is not possible to test, treat, and follow all of these people due to the capacity in our health care system along with the astronomically high cost of medication, this large and comprehensive cohort study will help to inform the best way forward to address this epidemic.”

The team will be conducting further research into how people with new infections could be identified and these integrated services provided, Janjua said.

The study was funded through Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, and can be accessed by clicking here.

Photo credit: Janjua et al 2016, BMC Infect Diseases