Hepatitis C Spreads Among Non-Injection Drug Users
The use of needles is "not the only drug-related risk factor" for hepatitis C, as two studies conducted in New York City show a "higher than expected" prevalence of the disease among non-injection drug users, according to an NIH release. While about 60% of all new HCV cases in the United States are associated with the sharing of contaminated needles and syringes, the findings of the studies published in the May 1 issue of Substance Use and Misuse show that infection is not limited to needle transmission. Dr. Stephanie Tortu of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and Dr. Alan Neaigus of the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. in New York, surveyed self-reported non-injection drug users from the Lower East Side of Manhattan and East Harlem who said they had never injected drugs or had not injected them within the past six months of the study. The study found that 14% of the 107 women and 18% of the 251 men from the Lower East Side tested positive for HCV. Of the 171 women studied from East Harlem, 17% were also found to be infected. The NIH release did not provide figures for men from Harlem. Among women from one study site in East Harlem, the infection rate was as high as 26%. These rates are lower than the 50% of men and women from the Lower East Side and the 62% of Harlem women who reported injection drug use, but were higher than the 2% found in the general population. Tortu concluded, "These studies indicate that the prevalence of HCV among drug users who report that they have never injected is substantially higher than for the general population in the U.S. and several other countries, and prevalence may vary according to population, gender, age and drugs used. Further research is needed to determine the risk factors for HCV transmission among those with no history of injecting drugs." Dr. Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the studies show that "we need to look closer for other routes of HCV transmission among non-injecting drug users. If hepatitis C can be transmitted through the sharing of non-injecting drug paraphernalia such as straws or pipes, we need to include this information in public health messages targeted to this population" (NIH release, 5/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.