Injecting drug use is an important risk factor for transmission of viral hepatitis, but detailed, transparent estimates of the scale of the issue do not exist. We estimated national, regional, and global prevalence and population size for hepatitis C virus (HCV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV) in injecting drug users (IDUs).
We systematically searched for data for HBV and HCV in IDUs in peer-reviewed databases (Medline, Embase, and PsycINFO), grey literature, conference abstracts, and online resources, and made a widely distributed call for additional data. From 4386 peer-reviewed and 1019 grey literature sources, we reviewed 1125 sources in full. We extracted studies into a customised database and graded them according to their methods. We included serological reports of HCV antibodies (anti-HCV), HBV antibodies (anti-HBc), or HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) in studies of IDUs with more than 40 participants (<100% HIV-positive) and sampling frames that did not exclude participants on the basis of age or sex. With endorsed decision rules, we calculated prevalence estimates with anti-HCV and anti-HBc as proxies for exposure and HBsAg as proxy for current infection. We combined these estimates with IDU population sizes to calculate the number of IDUs with positive HBV or HCV statuses.
We located eligible reports with data for prevalence of anti-HCV in IDUs for 77 countries; midpoint prevalence estimates suggested 60-80% of IDUs had anti-HCV in 25 countries and more than 80% of IDUs did so in 12 countries. About 10.0 million (range 6.0-15.2) IDUs worldwide might be anti-HCV positive. China (1.6 million), USA (1.5 million), and Russia (1.3 million) had the largest such populations. We identified eligible HBsAg reports for 59 countries, with midpoint prevalence estimates of 5-10% in 21 countries and more than 10% in ten countries. Worldwide, we estimate 6.4 million IDUs are anti-HBc positive (2.3-9.7 million), and 1.2 million (0.3-2.7 million) are HBsAg positive.
More IDUs have anti-HCV than HIV infection, and viral hepatitis poses a key challenge to public health. Variation in the coverage and quality of existing research creates uncertainty around estimates. Improved and more complete data and reporting are needed to estimate the scale of the issue, which will inform efforts to prevent and treat HCV and HBV in IDUs.
WHO and US National Institutes of Health (NIDA R01 DA018609).