BACKGROUND AND AIM: Of the estimated 160,000 Australians currently infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), two-thirds are men. Little is known about their social and health needs. The present study presents results from a comprehensive survey of Australian men living with HCV.
METHODS: In 2002, a self-administered questionnaire was completed by a largely non-clinical sample of men living in the State of Victoria who had tested positive for HCV antibodies (n = 308). The return rate was 54%. The mean age was 38 years (standard deviation [SD] = 9.8; range 19-90 years), and 86% were ‘current’ or ‘past’ injecting drug users. The mean number of years since diagnosis was 6.6 years (SD = 5.0) and the mean self-reported number of years since infection was 12.6 years (SD = 9.2).
RESULTS: Fifty percent of men reported experiencing HCV-related symptoms, most commonly tiredness (61%) and nausea (30%). Of the sample, 43% currently saw a doctor for HCV and although 30% had ever been referred to a specialist, few had received treatment (6% interferon; 14% combination therapy). Forty percent of men reported that they believed they received less favorable treatment from health care professionals than those without HCV. Self-assessed health status was significantly lower than Australian norms, as were SF-12 physical and mental health scores. Scores were moderately correlated, indicating an association between the physical and mental health burden of HCV.
CONCLUSION: The social, physical and mental health needs of men living with HCV are considerable. Few men in the present study had accessed specialist treatment; those who were current injecting drug users were particularly disadvantaged. Reduction of barriers to primary and specialist health care is essential to improve treatment, support and care for men with HCV.