HIV, HCV Prevalence Among Injection Drug Users in London Increasing, Study Says
HIV and hepatitis C virus prevalence among injection drug users in the London area are increasing, according to a study published Friday in the online edition of BMJ, Reuters Health reports. Dr. Ali Judd of Imperial College London and colleagues surveyed and tested blood samples from 428 people under age 30 who had used injection drugs for six years or less, according to Reuters Health. The researchers initially found an HCV prevalence of 43.7% and an HIV prevalence of 4.2% among the participants. However, after one year, 53 more participants tested positive for HCV and nine more tested positive for HIV (Reuters Health, 11/12). "Hepatitis C is now spreading at epidemic levels across London, and HIV incidence is worryingly high," the authors said, adding, "There is an urgent need for new and comprehensive programs to tackle this growing problem." The authors said that London now has a higher HCV prevalence among injection drug users than Sydney, Australia, and New York City and a higher HIV prevalence than Amsterdam (Abbas, Reuters, 11/11).
Reaction and Recommendations
England during the 1990s had some of the lowest rates of HCV and HIV -- possibly because of public health strategies implemented in the late 1980s -- but the study suggests that those "historically" low rates have "disappeared," according to Reuters Health (Reuters Health, 11/12). "For the past six or seven years, government drug policy has focused on drugs and crime and has been successful in expanding specialist drug treatment, especially through referral from criminal justice," Matthew Hickman of Imperial College London, one of the study authors, said, adding, "However, there is a need now to reinvigorate harm-reduction policies that prevent transmission of hepatitis C and HIV" (Demopoulos, London's Guardian, 11/12). Researchers urged the British government to provide better education and health care to injection drug users, including the provision of syringes at no cost (Reuters, 11/11). A spokesperson for the U.K. Department of Health said that the government in June began an "action plan" calling for a review of "harm-reduction services" to prevent HCV transmission, including funding for needle-exchange programs, the Guardian reports (Guardian, 11/12).