Sharing Injection Equipment Spreads Hepatitis C
- Sharing Injection Equipment Spreads Hepatitis C
Tue Apr 2, 5:30 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new report underscores the risks
injection drug users face for infection with the hepatitis C virus
(HCV) from sharing commonly used drug paraphernalia other than
syringes, such as drug "cookers" and cotton filters.
While many anti-drug campaigns have warned of the hazards of sharing
hypodermic needles, the new study found that injection drug users who
shared cookers--containers used to dissolve and heat illicit drugs
including heroin and cocaine--were four times more likely to contract
HCV. Those who shared cotton filters more than doubled their risk of
contracting the virus. Sharing syringes and rinse water also boosted
risk, but not significantly.
"In most injection sessions, drugs are placed in a cooker and
dissolved in water. The solution is then drawn into a syringe through
a cotton filter to strain out 'impurities,"' Dr. Lorna E. Thorpe of
the University of Illinois at Chicago and colleagues explain in the
April issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Thorpe's team followed 702 injection drug users from 1997 to 1999.
All of the young adults in the study provided blood samples and those
who did not already have HCV were retested 6 months and 1 year later.
About one quarter of the drug users were already infected with HCV at
the beginning of the study, the authors report.
During the study period, 29 more became infected with the virus.
After adjusting for the sharing of syringes, the researchers
calculated that injection drug users who shared cookers were more
than three times more likely to contract HCV. Sharing cotton filters
more than doubled a person's risk of contracting HCV, the report
"This study provides...evidence that sharing of drug injection
paraphernalia other than syringes may cause transmission of HCV among
injection drug users," Thorpe and colleagues write.
"Prevention messages and campaigns should be revised to alert active
injection drug users to the importance of reducing or eliminating all
equipment-sharing practices," they conclude.
Currently in the US, injection drug users are the group at highest
risk for infection with HCV, with experts attributing more than 60%
of new HCV cases to people who inject illicit drugs.
HCV causes deterioration of the liver, or cirrhosis, in about 20% of
people with chronic infection, and it can be fatal. A 6- to 12-month
course of interferon treatment, sometimes given along with the
antiviral drug ribavirin, wipes out HCV in about 40% of infected
SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology 2002;155:645-653.
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