Background: Blood contained in needles and injection equipment has been identified as a vector for HIV and HCV transmission among people who inject drugs (PWID). Yet, there is often a wide discrepancy in prevalence for both viruses. While microbiological differences between viruses influence prevalence, other variables associated with the way drugs are acquired and used, also play a role.
Methods: Respondent-driven sampling (RDS) methods recruited a sample of 315 current intravenous drug users in rural Puerto Rico. Information about type and frequency of use, HIV and HVC risk behaviors (sharing needles, cookers, cotton, and water), sexual behaviors, and alcohol use was collected. HIV and HCV statuses were assessed via rapid antibody tests. T tests compare means of participants who tested positive (reactive) to those who tested negative. Logistic regression analyses were used to validate the association of the risk factors involved.
Results: Tests showed a significant difference in HIV (6 %) and HCV (78.4 %) prevalence among a population of current PWID. The main risk behaviors in HCV transmission are the sharing of injection “works”, (e.g., cookers, cotton, and water). Sharing works occurred more than twice as often as the sharing of needles, and HCV+ and HCV− individuals reported the same needle sharing habits.
Conclusions: Washing and rinsing injection works with water seems to prevent HIV transmission, but it is unable to prevent HCV infection. While education about the need to clean injection equipment with bleach might be beneficial, equipment sharing—and the subsequent risk of HVC—might be unavoidable in a context where participants are forced to pool resources to acquire and use intravenous drugs.