Seroepidemiology of viral infections among intravenous drug users in northern California.


Intravenous drug users are frequently exposed to parenterally transmitted viral infections, and these infections can spread to the general population through sexual activity. We investigated the prevalence of serologic markers for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I/II (HTLV-I/II), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV) in intravenous drug users and their sexual contacts. Of 585 drug users from northern California tested for these serologic markers, 72% were reactive for the antibody to HCV, 71% for the antibody to hepatitis B core antigen, 12% for HTLV-I/II antibodies, and 1% for the HIV-1 antibody. The prevalence of serologic markers for these four viruses correlated with the duration of intravenous drug use, the ethnic group, and the drug of choice. More than 85% of subjects infected with either HCV or HBV were coinfected with the other virus. All persons reactive to HTLV-I/II antibodies had antibodies for either HBV or HCV. Of 81 sexual contacts tested, 17% had evidence of HBV infection while only 6% were reactive for HTLV-I/II antibodies and 4% for the antibody to HCV. None of this group was infected with HIV-1. We conclude that HTLV-I/II and HCV are inefficiently transmitted to sexual contacts while HBV is spread more readily. Programs designed to discourage the sharing of drug paraphernalia, such as needle and syringe exchanges, should decrease the risk of parenterally spread viral infections in intravenous drug users and thus slow the spread of these infections to the general population.

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