Hepatitis C infection used to be a concern mainly for people who used injectable drugs. However, it’s become clear that sexual transmission of hepatitis C is not an uncommon occurrence, particularly among men who have sex with men (MCM). According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1 in 4 people in the U.S. who have HIV are coinfected with hepatitis C. And while hepatitis C is treatable, the likelihood of reinfection in this population, unfortunately, is high.
Seeking to understand what motivates HIV-infected MSM to engage in – or not engage in – risky behaviors, as well as obstacles they may face in attempting to mitigate this risk, a team of Dutch investigators conducted a study consisting of lengthy interviews with 20 MSM with hepatitis C, 19 of whom also were living with HIV. Five of the men were undergoing treatment for hepatitis C at the time of the interviews, 4 of whom had been infected with the virus more than once.
The investigators were particularly interested in how knowledgeable the participants were about hepatitis C, how much of a threat they felt hepatitis C was, how they felt about having the virus, and whether they were taking any steps to reduce their risk of transmission. They discovered that, in general, the participants were not focused on the physical complications of untreated hepatitis C (liver disease), especially in conjunction with HIV, but were more apprehensive about the unpleasant side effects of hepatitis C treatment that were more common in the past than with today’s new medications.