Background: Recent reports suggest an increase in sexually-transmitted hepatitis C infection among HIV-infected men who have sex with men (MSM) in European cities. We investigated whether current national surveillance systems in England and Wales (E&W) are able to monitor sexual transmission of hepatitis C infection among HIV-infected MSM.
Methods: Routine laboratory reports of hepatitis C diagnoses and data from sentinel hepatitis C testing surveillance were matched to HIV diagnosis reports to determine: (i) the number of MSM diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis C (1996-2003); (ii) the number of HIV-diagnosed MSM tested for hepatitis C and found to be positive at sentinel sites (2003).
Results: (i) Between 1996-2003, 38,027 hepatitis C diagnoses were reported; 25,938 (68%) were eligible for matching with HIV diagnoses. Thirty-one men (four in London) had both a HIV and hepatitis C diagnosis where the only risk was sex with another man. Numbers of "co-diagnosed" MSM increased from 0 in 1996 to 14 in 2003. The majority of MSM (22/31) tested hepatitis C positive after HIV diagnosis. (ii) Of 78,058 test results from sentinel hepatitis C testing sites in 2003, 67,712 (87%) were eligible for matching with HIV diagnoses. We identified 242 HIV-diagnosed MSM who did not inject drugs who tested for hepatitis C in 2003; 11 (4.5%) tested hepatitis C positive (95% CI: 2.3%-8.0%). Applying this percentage to all MSM seen for HIV-related care in E&W in 2003, an estimated 680 MSM living with diagnosed HIV would have tested positive for sexually-transmitted hepatitis C (95% CI: 346-1208).
Conclusion: Matching routine laboratory reports of hepatitis C diagnoses with HIV diagnoses only identified 31 HIV infected MSM with sexually-transmitted hepatitis C infection. Clinical studies suggest that this is an underestimate. On the other hand, matching sentinel surveillance reports with HIV diagnoses revealed that in E&W in 2003 nearly 5% of HIV-diagnosed MSM tested hepatitis C positive where the only risk was sex with another man. Reports of sexually-transmitted hepatitis C infection were not confined to London. Enhanced surveillance is needed to monitor sexually-transmitted hepatitis C among HIV-infected MSM in E&W.