of HIV-negative gay men in London had antibodies to the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in 2008, results
of a community survey published in HIV
Medicine show. The study’s findings support those of clinic-based research
which found no evidence of an HCV epidemic among HIV-negative gay men.
HIV-negative MSM [men who have sex with men] was not significantly higher than
in the general population,” comment the authors.
However, 8% of
HIV-positive gay men had antibodies to HCV, further evidence of the ongoing
epidemic of the infection in this population. Prevalence of HCV was higher
among men reporting unprotected sex with a casual partner and in those with a
history of syphilis.
According to the recently published Public Health England report Hepatitis C in the UK, enhanced surveillance of new hepatitis C infections in men who have sex with men shows that incidence of hepatitis C in HIV-positive men has declined significantly since 2008, to 2.2 new infections per thousand person years of follow-up in 2012.
Since new diagnoses of HCV infection have been very heavily concentrated in HIV-positive gay men it is unlikely that prevalence among HIV-negative gay men has increased substantially since 2008.
believe their findings support “risk-based” HCV testing for HIV-negative gay
HCV is a
blood-borne virus and most cases in the UK involve individuals with a history
of injecting drug use.
2000 there has been an epidemic of sexually transmitted HCV among HIV-positive
in London sexual health clinics has found little evidence that the epidemic
involves HIV-negative gay men. One
study found a prevalence of 0.4%, similar to the 0.2% prevalence seen in
HIV-negative heterosexual men.
men are not considered to be at high risk of HCV. Therefore, British sexual
health guidelines do not recommend that they should be routinely tested for HCV. Investigators from
the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Survey (GMSHS) wanted to see if such an approach
The GMSHS involves
gay men recruited in community settings such as gay bars, clubs and saunas. In 2008, 1121 men
completed short questionnaires about their demographics and sexual risk behaviour
and also provided samples of oral fluid which were tested for antibodies to
HIV, HCV and syphilis.
had a median age of 33 years (range, 16 to 81 years).
Antibodies to HIV
were present in 15% of men and 12% had antibodies to syphilis. The overall
prevalence of antibodies to HCV was 2.1%. But prevalence differed according to
HIV infection status and was significantly higher in HIV-positive men compared
to HIV-negative men (7.7 vs 1.2%; p < 0.001).
There was also a
higher prevalence of antibodies to HCV among men who had antibodies to syphilis
compared to men with no evidence of this infection (12.2 vs 1.7%; p <
were more common in men who reported having had a sexually transmitted infection in
the past year, compared to men who had not had such an infection (4.7 vs 1.8%;
p = 0.03).
Prevalence of HCV
antibodies was also significantly higher among men who had reported unprotected
anal intercourse (UAI) in the past year with a casual partner than in men who did not
report this sexual behaviour (4.1 vs 1.2%; p = 0.01).
“In a community
sample of MSM in London we did not find any evidence of a large number of
HIV-negative MSM with evidence of exposure to HCV,” write the authors.
that a limitation of their study was that they did not enquire about injecting
drug use. Some doctors now believe that a proportion of the HCV infections
among HIV-positive gay men attributed to sexual transmission may in fact be a
consequence of sharing injecting equipment.
believe the low prevalence of HCV antibodies in HIV-negative gay men “supports
the practice at most GUM clinics where HCV testing…is not routine for
HIV-negative MSM”. However, they suggest that testing should be considered for
this population according to their risk profile. “Those with a history of UAI
with casual partners and those with syphilis infection should be considered at