Hepatitis C infections have increased eighteen fold among HIV positive Swiss men over a 14 year period, according to a study published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, with half of those infections occurring since 2008.
In comparison infections decreased among injecting drug users and remained stable among heterosexuals.
Troublingly, over 80 percent of the Hepatitis C infections among gay men were of the hardest strains of the virus to treat.
‘In MSM, a history of inconsistent condom use and a past episode of syphilis were significantly associated with [hepatitis C virus] seroconversion,’ the paper’s authors from the Bern University Hospital and University of Bern found.
‘Clinicians and patients should be aware of the risk of acute HCV infections in MSM. Intensified prevention and counseling should be performed.’
The researchers attributed the massive drop in infections among injecting drug users to Switzerland’s heroin prescription program under which heroin addicts can purchase the drug from a government regulated supply.
Infection rates among injecting drug users fell from 13.89 per 100 persons in 1998 to just 2.24 per 100 persons in 2011.
In comparison, infection rates among men who have sex with men rose from 0.23 per 100 persons in 1998 to 4.09 per 100 persons in 2011.
‘Switzerland’s long-term heroin prescription program likely contributed to the decreasing incidence of HCV seroconversion in this population,’ they found.
Risky sexual practices appeared to be the cause of the jump in infection rates among gay men.
The University of Bern researchers urged that men who have sex with men receive better education about riskier sex practices, and said the reduction in rates among injecting drug users showed infection rates among a particular population could be turned around.
‘It is crucial that HIV-infected MSM are counseled with regard to the risk of sexual activities that involve traumatic mucosal sex [such as fisting], and that condoms are consistently used in sexual risk situations. The example of [injecting drug users] demonstrates that it is possible to reduce the incidence of HCV infections through improved screening and preventative interventions.’