Objectives: To determine the prevalence of antibodies against HIV, hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) in postmortem samples from drug related deaths (DRDs) in Denmark.
Design: Prospective cohort study. Postmortem samples tested for anti-HIV, anti-HCV anti-HBc and anti-HBs. Comparison to pre-mortem testing when possible. DRDs were searched for in the national register of drug treatment, national prison registers, and the national infectious disease register.
Setting: National level.
Participants: Drug related deaths admitted to Danish Institutes of Forensic Medicine during 2004.
Main outcome measures: Prevalence of antibodies, injection drug use, drug treatment experience and prevalence of cirrhosis.
Results: Samples for analysis were obtained from 78% (233/299) of DRDs. The prevalences of anti-HIV, anti-HCV and anti-HBc were 4% (9/214), 51% (110/215), and 35% (74/209), indicating a persisting low prevalence of HIV and a declining prevalence of HCV and HBV. Injecting ever was detected among 45% of DRDs and this was associated with a significantly higher prevalence of hepatitis B and C. Among the DRDs 56% received drug treatment and 12% had cirrhosis at autopsy. Evidence of vaccination against HBV was found among 16% (21/128).
Conclusions: Monitoring of viral hepatitis and HIV among DRDs is feasible, and our survey indicates a falling prevalence among Danish drug users. Surveillance based on drug users in treatment may overestimate the true prevalence.