Hepatitis C virus risk among young people who inject drugs

BACKGROUND: Injection drug use (IDU) is the leading risk factor for hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission in the U.S. While the general risk factors for HCV transmission are known, there is limited work on how these factors interact and impact young people who inject drugs (YPWID).

METHODS: Project data were drawn from a study of 539 New York City (NYC) residents ages 18-29 who were recruited via Respondent-Driven Sampling and, reported past-month non-medical use of prescription opioids and/or heroin. Analyses are based on a subsample of 337 (62%) who reported injecting any drug in the past 12 months. All variables were assessed via self-report, except HCV status, which was established via rapid antibody testing. Integrating the observed statistical associations with extant literature on HCV risk, we also developed a qualitative system dynamics (SD) model to use as a supplemental data visualization tool to explore plausible pathways and interactions among key risk and protective factors for HCV.

RESULTS: Results showed a 31% HCV antibody prevalence with an overall incidence of 10 per 100 person-years. HCV status was independently correlated with having shared cookers with two or more people (AOR = 2.17); injected drugs 4-6 years (AOR = 2.49) and 7 or more years (AOR = 4.95); lifetime homelessness (AOR = 2.52); and having been incarcerated two or more times (AOR = 1.99). These outcomes along with the extant literature on HCV risk were used to develop the qualitative SD model, which describes a causal hypothesis around non-linearities and feedback loop structures underlying the spread of HCV among YPWID.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite ongoing harm reduction efforts, close to a third of YPWID in the community sample have been exposed to HCV, have risks for injection drug use, and face challenges with structural factors that may be preventing adequate intervention. The qualitative SD model explores these issues and contributes to a better understanding of how these various risk factors interact and what policies could potentially be effective in reducing HCV infections.

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Full citation:
Mateu-Gelabert P, Sabounchi NS, Guarino H, Ciervo C, Joseph K, Eckhardt BJ, Fong C, Kapadia SN, Huang TTK (2022).
Hepatitis C virus risk among young people who inject drugs
Frontiers in Public Health, 10, 835836. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.835836. PMCID: PMC9372473.