Hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus infections in injecting drug users in drug treatment centers in Vietnam

Ha Thi Thu Phan, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background. Injecting drug users (IDUs) are at risk of infection with Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Independently, each of these viruses is a serious threat to health, with HIV ravaging the body’s immune system, and HCV causing cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. Co-infection with HIV/HCV weakens the response to antiretroviral therapy in HIV patients. IDUs with HIV/HCV co-infection are at a 20 times higher risk of having liver-related morbidity and mortality than IDUs with HIV alone. In Vietnam, studies to ascertain the prevalence of HIV have found high rates, but little is known about their HCV status. Purpose. To measure the prevalence of HCV and HIV infection and identify factors associated with these viruses among IDUs at drug treatment centers in northern Vietnam. Methods. A cross-sectional study was conducted from November 2007 to February 2008 with 455 injecting drug users aged 18 to 39 years, admitted no more than two months earlier to one of four treatment centers in Northern Vietnam (Hatay Province) (response rate=95%). Participants, all of whom had completed detoxification and provided informed consent, completed a risk assessment questionnaire and had their blood drawn to test for the presence of antibody-HCV and antibody-HIV with enzyme immuno assays. Univariate and multivariable logistic regression models were utilized to explore the strength of association using HIV, HCV infections and HIV/HCV co-infection as outcomes and demographic characteristics, drug use and sexual behaviors as factors associated with these outcomes. Unadjusted and adjusted odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated. Results. Among all IDU study participants, the prevalence of HCV alone was 76.9%, HIV alone was 19.8%. The prevalence of HIV/HCV co-infection was 92.2% of HIV-positive and 23.7% of HCV-positive respondents. No sexual risk behaviors for lifetime, six months or 30 days prior to admission were significantly associated with HCV or HIV infection among these IDUs. Only duration of injection drug use was independently associated with HCV and HIV infection, respectively. Longer duration was associated with higher prevalence. Nevertheless, while HCV infection among IDUs who reported being in their first year of injecting drugs were lower than longer time injectors, their rates were still substantial, 67.5%. Compared with either HCV mono-infection or HIV/HCV non-infection, HIV/HCV co-infection was associated with the length of drug injection history but was not associated with sexual behaviors. Higher education was associated with a lower prevalence of HIV/HCV co-infection. When compared with HIV/HCV non-infection, current marriage was associated with a lower prevalence of HIV/HCV co-infection. Conclusions. HCV was prevalent among IDUs from 18 to 39 years old at four drug treatment centers in northern Vietnam. Co-infection with HCV was predominant among HIV-positive IDUs. HCV and HIV co-infection were closely associated with the length of injection drug history. Further research regarding HCV/HIV co-infection should include non-injecting drug users to assess the magnitude of sexual risk behaviors on HIV and HCV infection. (At these treatment centers non-IDUs constituted 10-20% of the population.) High prevalence of HCV prevalence among IDUs, especially among HIV-infected IDUs, suggests that drug treatment centers serving IDUs should include not only HIV prevention education but they should also include the prevention of viral hepatitis. In addition, IDUs who are HIV-positive need to be tested for HCV to receive the best course of therapy and achieve the best response to HIV treatment. These data also suggest that because many IDUs get infected with HCV in the first year of their injection drug career, and because they also engaged in high risk sexual behaviors, outreach programs should focus on harm reduction, safer drug use and sexual practices to prevent infection among drug users who have not yet begun injecting drugs and to prevent further spread of HCV, HIV and co-infection.

Subject Area

Public health|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

Phan, Ha Thi Thu, "Hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus infections in injecting drug users in drug treatment centers in Vietnam" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3350199.