Outlook on Contracting Infectious Diseases and Injection Partners Among Rural PWID in Puerto Rico

Members of the REACH lab published a paper in Substance Use and Misuse in November titled “Injection Partners, HCV, and HIV Status among Rural Persons Who Inject Drugs in Puerto Rico.” REACH researchers Patrick Habecker, Roberto Abadie, and Kirk Dombrowski set out to identify network risks associated with injection partners and the contraction of HCV and HIV. The team utilized data gathered through interviews of 315 rural Puerto Rican injection drug users. 

The study found that there were no associations between self-reported HIV status and the number of injection partners. On the other hand, the relationship was strong between HCV status and the number of injection partners a person had. Important disparities exist between one’s status of infection of HIV/HCV and how they view important risk behaviors like sharing needles and injecting with others. As Habecker noted, “a negative HCV status may motivate greater risk avoidance than a positive or unknown one, and may prompt some self-protective action” and infection of HCV often seems inevitable to PWID due to the high rates of infection within this population.

The REACH team suggests that, following these findings and a slew of others, intervention strategies should focus more on preventing contraction of HCV before one becomes HCV-positive instead of the current emphasis on advising PWID with Hep C on how to prevent spreading the disease to others. A focus on early screening, diagnosis, and prevention is necessary for PWID populations with high rates of Hepatitis C infection.

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