Objectives: To examine the seroprevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the Australian injecting drug-using community in the 1970s, and to compare the profile of HCV genotypes with that seen in the 1990s.
Design: Investigation of stored sera that were collected from injecting drug users in the 1970s and comparison with sera collected in the 1990s.
Setting: Inner Sydney, 1974-1975 and 1994-1996.
Patients: The 1970s group comprised 141 consecutive injecting drug users who attended the Brisbane Street Methadone Clinic. The 1990s group comprised 88 consecutive, injecting drug users of European origin who were HCV antibody-positive and attended a primary healthcare facility (the Kirketon Road Centre).
Main outcome measures: HCV antibody prevalence (1970s); profile of HCV serotypes (1970s and 1990s); and serological evidence of hepatitis A and B.
Results: 84% of the 1970s group were HCV antibody-positive, of whom 92% were infected with HCV serotype 1 and 1% with serotype 3. In contrast, in the 1990s group, 69% were infected with HCV serotype 1 and 25% with serotype 3. The HCV-positive subjects from the early group were more likely than those from the recent group to have serological evidence of previous HBV infection.
Conclusions: The high prevalence of HCV among injecting drug users in the 1970s in Australia confirms an epidemic that has been present for at least 25 years. Over this period, the proportion of HCV genotype 1 infections has decreased and genotype 3 infections have emerged.