Sharing Drug Injection Equipment, Not Just Syringes, Raises Risk of Hepatitis C Infection
Sharing injection equipment other than syringes can also raise injection drug users' risk of contracting hepatitis C, according to a study published in the April issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, Reuters Health reports. Dr. Lorna Thorpe of the University of Illinois-Chicago and colleagues followed 702 injection drug users from 1997 to 1999. All of the participants were screened for hepatitis C at the beginning of the study, and those who tested negative were screened again at six-month intervals. About 25% of participants tested positive for HCV at the outset of the study and another 29 seroconverted during the course of the study. After controlling for shared syringe use, the researchers determined that sharing drug "cookers" -- devices used to heat and dissolve drugs such as heroin and cocaine -- increased by four times the risk of HCV infection. Those who shared cotton filters to purify the drug more than doubled their risk of contracting HCV. "This study provides ... evidence that sharing of drug injection paraphernalia other than syringes may cause transmission of HCV among injection drug users," the researchers state, adding, "Prevention messages and campaigns should be revised to alert active injection drug users to the importance of reducing or eliminating all equipment-sharing practices." More than 60% of all new HCV cases in the United States are attributed to injection drug use. Untreated, HCV can lead to serious liver damage and can be fatal (Reuters Health, 4/2).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.