STUDY OBJECTIVE: To review the epidemiology of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection among injecting drug users (IDUs) in Australia, and consider needs for further research and prevention policies and programmes. DESIGN: (1) Review of the results of surveillance for HCV; (2) review of published literature on prevalence, incidence, and risk factors for HCV among IDUs; and (3) reconstruction of incidence rates from prevalence studies of HCV in IDUs. SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: Field and clinic based studies of IDUs in Australia. MAIN RESULTS: HCV has been present at high prevalences (of the order of 60-70%) in populations of Australian IDUs since at least 1971. Duration of injecting and main drug injected were the main predictors of seropositivity, the latter possibly a surrogate for frequency of injecting and both together as surrogate for cumulative numbers of times injected. Risk of infection begins with first injection and continues as long as injecting does. Current incidence is approximately 15 per 100 person years, and up to 40 per 100 person years in some subpopulations. Incidence may have decreased through the 1980s as a result of behaviour change in relation to HIV, as it has for hepatitis B, but not significantly so. CONCLUSIONS: Control of HCV infection in Australia will depend on effectiveness of measures to control HCV spread among IDUs. This will be a greater challenge than the control of HIV in this population has been. Needs identified include improved surveillance, especially for recently acquired infection, better understanding of exact transmission modes, and urgent improvement in prevention strategies.
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