Australia: Needle Program Needed to Cut Hepatitis C Risk in Jail
November 17, 2008
Compared with the general population, persons entering Australia's prison system are far more likely to have hepatitis C virus, and many HCV-infected inmates continue injection drug use (IDU) while incarcerated, researchers report. Without access to sterile needles, inmates face a greater risk of HCV's spread, according to Dr. Emma Miller of Deakin University and colleagues.
Among 662 male and female prisoners in South Australia tested for HCV, 42 percent were seropositive at entry. "This is a startling statistic given that only 1.5 percent of the Australian population is infected," Miller said.
Previous IDU was reported by 64 percent of the inmates. While prison IDU was "infrequently reported... HCV-seropositive participants were significantly more likely to commence IDU in prison than seronegative participants (p= 0.035)," according to the report. In addition, needle-sharing was common in jails, increasing the risk of HCV transmission.
"It is entirely likely that this would also be the case in prisons around Australia," Miller said. "This has serious implications for prison staff and also for susceptible prisoners."
Australia should re-examine its zero-tolerance policy toward needle exchange programs in prisons, said Miller. The country might take as models prison-based NEPs in Scotland and Germany, she said. "South Australia has a good methadone program in its prison system, but we need to think more pragmatically and also consider a needle exchange program," she said.
The report, "Hepatitis C Virus Infection in South Australian Prisoners: Seroprevalence, Seroconversion, and Risk Factors," is available online ahead of print at the International Journal of Infectious Diseases Web site (2008;doi:10.1016/j.ijid.2008.06.011).
Australian Associated Press
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.