Background: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) emerged as sexually transmitted infection among HIV-infected men who have sex with men (MSM). We studied whether HCV circulated in identifiable high-risk MSM subcultures and performed phylogenetic analysis.
Methods: HIV-infected MSM were recruited at the sexually transmitted infections (STI) outpatient clinic and a university HIV clinic in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2008-2009. Participants completed a detailed questionnaire and were tested for HCV antibodies and RNA, with NS5B regions sequenced for analysis of clusters.
Results: Among 786 participants, the median age was 43 (IQR 37-48) years, and 93 (11.8%) were HCV-positive. Seropositivity was associated with belonging to subcultures identified as leather (aOR 2.60; 95% CI 1.56-4.33), rubber/lycra (aOR 2.15; 95% CI 1.10-4.21), or jeans (aOR 2.23; 95% CI 1.41-3.54). The two largest HCV-RNA monophyletic clusters were compared; MSM in cluster I (genotype 1a, n = 13) reported more partners (P = 0.037) than MSM in cluster II (genotype 4d, n = 14), but demographics, subculture characteristics and other risk behaviors did not differ significantly between the two clusters.
Discussion: HCV infection is associated with identifiable groups of leather/rubber/lycra/jeans subcultures among HIV-infected MSM. Separate epidemiological HCV transmission networks were not revealed. Active HCV screening and treatment within specific subcultures may reduce HCV spread among all MSM.