Sexual Health news - Hepatitis B and C

High prevalence of HCV found to correspond with specific populations

According to a study funded by the National Cancer Institute and published in the journal Hepatology, the rate of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in injection drug users (IDUs) was higher in males and African Americans, as compared to other IDUs. This is the first time researchers have made any conclusions regarding the virus based on demographic, viral and genetic factors.

HCV currently affects approximately 3.2 million individuals living in the U.S. and is the leading cause of liver cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus is commonly transmitted through blood transfusions from unscreened donors, intravenous drug use and less often through sexual contact. Up to 70 percent of newly infected patients can be asymptomatic.

In 2010, some 17,000 new cases of HCV and 2,800 acute cases of the infection were reported to the CDC. In addition, one-third of individuals who use injection drugs between the ages of 18 and 30 are infected with the virus, as well as 90 percent of older users. Researchers interviewed and took biological samples from IDUs of different ethnic groups in San Francisco. Out of the 1,701 participants who had detectable levels of HCV RNA, 75 percent were male and 56 percent were African American.

"With such a high incidence and prevalence of hepatitis C virus infection among IDUs, it is important to understand the characteristics of the infection in this group," said Thomas O'Brien, M.D., the lead author of the study. "The HCV RNA level is an important predictor of response to treatment in patients with chronic hepatitis C. Our study is the first to examine simultaneously the viral, demographic, and genetic factors that impact HCV levels in ethnically diverse IDUs."