Open Access Research article

Prevalence of hepatitis C in a Swiss sample of men who have sex with men: whom to screen for HCV infection?

Axel J Schmidt12*, Luis Falcato3, Benedikt Zahno1, Andrea Burri4, Stephan Regenass5, Beat Müllhaupt6 and Philip Bruggmann3*

Author Affiliations

1 Checkpoint Zurich, Konradstrasse 1, 8005 Zurich, Switzerland

2 Sigma Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

3 Arud Centers for Addiction Medicine, Konradstrasse 32, 8005 Zurich, Switzerland

4 Institute of Psychology, University of Zurich, Binzmühlestrasse 14, 8050 Zurich, Switzerland

5 Clinic of Immunology, University Hospital Zurich, Häldeliweg 4, 8044 Zurich, Switzerland

6 Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University Hospital Zurich, Rämistrasse 100, 8091 Zurich, Switzerland

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-3

Published: 6 January 2014

Abstract

Background

While the numbers of hepatitis-C-virus (HCV) infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) who are co-infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are on the rise, with vast evidence for sexual transmission of HCV in this population, concerns have also been raised regarding sexual HCV-transmission among MSM without HIV infection. Therefore, the aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of hepatitis C among MSM without HIV diagnosis in Zurich (Switzerland).

Methods

Participants were recruited from a gay health centre and various locations such as dark rooms, saunas and cruising areas in Zurich. Participants self-completed a questionnaire assessing known and suspected risk factors for HCV-infection, and provided a blood sample for detection of past (antibodies) and present (core antigen, RNA) infections with HCV.

Results

In total, 840 MSM aged 17-79 (median: 33 years) underwent HCV-testing and completed the questionnaire, among whom 19 reported living with HIV. Overall, seven tested positive for HCV-antibodies, and two were also positive for HCV core antigen and HCV-RNA–these two were immigrants, one from a country where HCV is endemic. None of the seven were aware of their infection. The seroprevalence of hepatitis C among the 821 non-HIV-diagnosed MSM was 0.37% (95%-CI: 0.12-1.69%), and one man harboured replicating virus (0.12%; 0.02-0.69%), resulting in a number needed to test of 821 to detect one active infection. Significant univariable associations of lifetime HCV-infection were found with known HIV-diagnosis (OR=72.7), being tattooed (OR=10.4), non-injection use of cocaine/amphetamines (OR=8.8), and non-Swiss origin (OR=8.5). For MSM without HIV-diagnosis, the only variable marginally associated with positive HCV-serostatus was being tattooed (OR=8.3). No significant associations were observed with reported injection drug use, unprotected anal intercourse, sexual practices that may lead to mucosal trauma, or proxy measures for group sex and lesion-prone STIs.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that in Switzerland, hepatitis C among MSM without diagnosed HIV is not more prevalent than in the general population. We found no evidence of elevated rates of sexual transmission of HCV among MSM without HIV-infection. Therefore, we currently see no reason for promoting HCV-testing among all MSM in Switzerland.

Keywords:
HCV; Hepatitis C prevalence; MSM; Switzerland; NIDU