1 Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California.
2 Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK.
3 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California.
4 Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
5 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV), a major cause of morbidity and mortality, is common and rising among young persons who inject drugs (PWID). Reducing the level of viremia may be an intervention, yet the impact of viremia on HCV transmission is unknown.
We conducted a prospective study of injecting partnerships (Partner Study) of young adult (age < 30 years) PWID within the UFO Study, which enrolled those at risk for HCV or with seronegative viremic infection and up to 3 HCV RNA-positive regular injecting partners. We examined the level of HCV viremia and stage of infection in the HCV-positive partner in regression analyses of HCV transmission events that were corroborated via HCV phylogenetic linkage analyses.
We enrolled 69 at-risk/acutely infected PWID. There were 25 new HCV infections (incidence rate, 35.9 per 100 person-years; 95% confidence interval [CI], 24.3-53.2 per 100 person-years); 12/25 (48%) were phylogenetically linked to at least 1 partner. We found no association between the infected partner's quantitative level of HCV viremia and likely transmission in multivariate analyses (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 0.90; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.55-1.46); however, seronegative viremic infection in the infected partner was associated with increased transmission (AOR, 28.02; 95% CI, 5.61-139.95).
The HCV viremia level was not associated with increased odds of transmission, yet acute HCV infection (seronegative viremic) was. Explanations include high-risk behavior during acute infection or missed fluctuations in viremia during acute infection. Both point to the need for frequent testing to detect new infection and attempt to prevent onward transmission.