1Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia. firstname.lastname@example.org.
2Centre for Health Research in Criminal Justice, Sydney, Australia. Luke.McCredie@justicehealth.nsw.gov.au.
3Inflammation and Infection Research Centre, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Australia, Sydney, Australia. email@example.com.
The potential for transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in prison settings is well established and directly associated with sharing of injecting and tattooing equipment, as well as physical violence. This study is one of the first to examine the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of HCV in the prison setting via inmates' own accounts.
This is a sub-study of a cohort of prison inmates in New South Wales, Australia. Cohort participants were inmates who had reported ever injecting drugs and who had a negative HCV serological test within 12 months prior to enrolment. Cohort participants were monitored every 3 to 6 months for HCV antibodies and viraemia and via behavioural risk practices questionnaire. Participants with a documented HCV seroconversion were eligible to participate in in-depth interviews with a research nurse known to them.
Participants included six inmates (four men, two women) with documented within-prison HCV seroconversion. Participants reported few changes to their injecting practices or circumstances that they attributed to HCV acquisition. Participants believed that they were sharing syringes with others who were HCV negative and trusted that others would have declared their HCV status if positive. Some participants described cleaning equipment with water, but not with disinfectant. In a departure from usual routine, one participant suggested that he may have acquired HCV as a result of using a syringe pre-loaded with drugs that was given to him in return for lending a syringe to another inmate. Participants described regret at acquiring HCV and noted a number of pre- and post-release plans that this diagnosis impacted upon.
Acquiring hepatitis C was not a neutral experience of participants but generated significant emotional reactions for some. Decisions to share injecting equipment were influenced by participants' assumptions of the HCV status of their injecting partners. The social organisation of injecting, in trusted networks, is a challenge for HCV prevention programs and requires additional research.