Hepatitis C spreading in HIV positive men: Unprotected sex blamed
High numbers of cases of hepatitis C (HCV) have been linked to unprotected sex among HIV positive men who have sex with other men (MSM) in New York City, according to a new CDC report.
Researchers say it's rare to spread hepatitis C sexually, but a large number of cases have been seen among men without other typical risk factors for contracting the disease, which is most often spread through infected blood and drug injection.
The hepatitis C virus was found in 74 HIV-infected men between October 2005 and December 2010, according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Their investigation showed the only risk factor was unprotected sex with other men, though the CDC also reports some limitations to the study.
Most not aware unprotected sex can lead to hepatitis C
The finding is important for raising awareness that can lead to early treatment and cure.
According to Dr. Daniel Fierer, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Mount Sinai School of Medicine; working with the CDC:
"MSM, and to some extent their health care providers are generally not aware that having unprotected receptive sex can result in HCV infection. The good news is that the cure rate for new HCV infections is very high with early treatment, but without regular testing of the men at risk, these largely asymptomatic infections may be missed and this opportunity lost."
Fierer says men with HIV should take steps and protect themselves from sexually transmitted hepatitis C with condom use. He also suggests outreach programs and screening for men who may be at risk.
For their study, researchers compared 22 men with HCV with a control group of 53 HIV-infected MSM, finding the only link to contracting the disease was unprotected sex. Men who were infected were 23 more times likely to have engaged in unprotected anal sex, compared to the control group.
Hepatitis A, B and C can lead to liver cancer, making early treatment important. It is caused by a virus. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. A blood test can determine presence of the virus.
According to the CDC, men who have sex with other men are also at high risk for hepatitis A and B and vaccine is recommended.
In the report, Hepatitis C infection was found in men whose average age was 39. Antibody testing confirmed the virus; 91 percent of the men had received previous negative testing.
The higher risk of hepatitis C found in men who have sex with other men is from the viral load of HIV, explain CDC officials. HIV infection also accelerates progression of hepatitis C, highlighting the importance of early testing and treatment. The researchers also suggest spread of HCV in men with HIV may be higher than the current report reflects. Currently, 3.2 million persons in the U.S. are estimated to be living with HCV.
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