Young, Low-Income Women Infected With Hepatitis C Also Likely to Use Drugs, Have an STD Infection
Young, low-income women in northern California who are infected with hepatitis C are also more likely to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease and have a history of intravenous and non-intravenous drug use than those without hepatitis C, according to new research published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco and public health officials examined 1,707 women ages 18 to 29 between April 1996 and January 1998. Study participants were drawn from San Francisco, Alameda, San Joaquin and San Mateo counties (Heredia, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/2). Women were screened for hepatitis C and STDs, with an average of 2.5% of participants testing positive for hepatitis C. Women infected with hepatitis C were more likely to have a history of IV and non-injection drug use, to have an STD and to exchange sex for money or drugs. The study states that although IV drug use is the highest risk factor for hepatitis C infection, non-injection drug use and infection with herpes simplex virus type 2 also "significantly" increased the risk of infection. Researchers concluded that hepatitis C prevention programs in low-income areas should incorporate substance abuse treatment and STD prevention programs (Page-Shafer et al., American Journal of Public Health, April 2002). Lead study author Dr. Kimberly Page-Shafer, an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF's Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, said, "I think the study shows that hepatitis C prevention needs to extend beyond just blood-to-blood transmission. The population at risk for hepatitis C requires a more complex risk-reduction strategy that addresses both STD prevention and reduction of intravenous drug use." Joey Tranchina, CEO of the Redwood City-based HCV Global Foundation, added that health officials need to examine other methods of hepatitis C transmission that do not involve IV drug use, including the use of needles in tattoos, piercings and "home remedies."
Urban Women More at Risk
The study findings also lend support to the theory that hepatitis C infections are more prevalent among low-income young people in urban areas. Participants in San Francisco had a hepatitis C infection rate of 4.3%, while women in Alameda County -- which includes the city of Oakland -- had an infection rate of 3.8%. Both rates are well above the national hepatitis C infection rate of 1.8%. However, low-income women in the more suburban San Joaquin and San Mateo counties had hepatitis C infection rates of 1.4% and zero, respectively -- both below the national average (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/2).