A team of UNL-affiliated researchers, including REACH Lab’s Bilal Khan and Kirk Dombrowski, published a paper examining possible social determinants of HIV/HCV co-infection in a recent edition of Addictive Behaviors Reports. The team found differences in age, number of years injecting, sexual identity, and access to healthcare between co-infected individuals and people that are not.
On average, co-infected individuals in the community were eight years older, had been injecting for ten years longer, were far more likely to identify as non-heterosexual (21.5% versus 2.7%), and had more consistent access/use of health care (100% versus 81.4%). Co-infected individuals also shared injection equipment less frequently, presumably to prevent infection of their injection partners. The team examined gender, annual income, homelessness, and education level as well, though these rates were roughly the same between co-infected and uninfected individuals.
Many of these findings were not surprising: researchers expect older individuals who have spent longer amounts of time injecting to have higher rates of co-infection; gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals are likely to engage in sexual behaviors that are risky in addition to risky injection behaviors; and co-infected individuals have greater access to care because government health insurance policies often provide care for HIV, but not for Hepatitis C.
The findings presented here are significant and meaningful, but more research still needs to be done. The data sample analyzed in this paper was fairly small (19 individuals of 315 interviewed participants). And though this sample was representative of broader co-infection rates (6%), the small sample size could have skewed the results presented in this paper.
Overall, this paper serves to identify the issues and areas of interest concerning co-infection in injection drug use networks. Now that differences have been identified, the team is calling for further research and for possible intervention strategies that can be established.