Huge rise in co-infection of HIV and hepatitis C

MORE people are being co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C at a time when there is not enough information on how best to deal with the problem, a conference heard yesterday.

“More and more of us are seeing a huge increase in co-infection,” said Ann Nolan, executive director of Dublin AIDS Alliance and co-secretary of the HIV services Network.

“In Dublin AIDS Alliance, 40% of our HIV clients are co-infected with hepatitis C.”

While it is reckoned that up to 90% of intravenous drug users have contracted hepatitis C as a result of their habit, there are no national statistics on how many also have HIV.

Ms Nolan said concern about the exact extent of the co-infection problem prompted the HIV Services Network to organise yesterday’s information forum at Dublin Castle.

The meeting was also supported by the Department of Health. A second information forum will be held later this year to identify strategies or appropriate responses to reduce the spread of hepatitis C.

“While the rate of sexual transmission of hepatitis C is currently only around three percent, British research has indicated that, in the presence of HIV, sexual transmission of hepatitis is actually increased by almost 20%,” Ms Nolan said.

She said there was generally a very low level of awareness of the hepatitis C problem in Ireland.

“Unlike hepatitis A or B, there is no vaccination or cure for hepatitis C.”

Earlier, the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Brian Lenihan, launched a directory of HIV and Sexual Health Services, sponsored by the Health Promotion Unit. The HIV and Sexual Health Network has developed a website, www.hivireland.ie, that includes the details contained in the directory.

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