Measuring the incidence, prevalence and genetic relatedness of hepatitis C infections among a community recruited sample of injecting drug users, using dried blood spots


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Abstract

Summary.Monitoring hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection among injecting drug users (IDUs) in the community is complicated by difficulties in obtaining biological specimens and biases in recruitment and follow-up. This study examined the utility of dried blood spot (DBS) specimens from IDUs recruited using respondent-driven sampling (RDS). Active IDUs underwent a computer-assisted interview and provided a DBS sample, tested for HCV antibody (anti-HCV) and HCV-RNA. HCV incidence was estimated from the proportion of anti-HCV-negative subjects found HCV-RNA-positive and estimates of the duration of this state. Results were adjusted according to RDS derived sample weights. HCV-RNA testing was performed on 288 DBS samples; 173 were anti-HCV-positive (54% weighted), of which 70 (42%, 95%CI 34-50% weighted) were RNA-negative indicating cleared infection. Among the 115 anti-HCV-negatives, 14 were RNA-positive suggesting an incidence of 38-47 per 100pyrs. Incident infections were younger than anti-HCV-negative and prevalent infections: 25 vs. 29 and 34, respectively. Incidence was highest among individuals with poor needle exchange coverage. One hundred and fourteen were genotyped (60 1a, 46 3a): a cluster of 14 had homology of >98.5% including 10 incident infections. Public health surveillance of HCV among IDUs could be enhanced through the collection of DBS samples with appropriate recruitment approaches. DBS allow differentiation between individuals with cleared infections, ongoing infection and those recently infected. They also enable virus characterization at genotype and nucleotide level. This would allow surveillance to inform development of harm reduction interventions, and the international evidence base for these.

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