Background: Meaningful reductions in Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) transmission rates among persons who inject drugs (PWID) require a comprehensive prevention approach, including access to harm reduction measures and to healthcare-related interventions, such as HCV screening, testing and antiviral treatment. Little is known, however, about the role of visiting a primary care physician (PCP) in relation to HCV infection risk among PWID, when integrated within a combined prevention approach. This study assessed the association between PCP visiting and HCV seroconversion among PWID attending needle exchange programs (NEP).
Methods: A prospective cohort study, HEPCO, was conducted among active PWID in Montréal (2004-2013). Interviews scheduled at 3- or 6-month intervals included completion of an interviewer-administered questionnaire, and collection of blood samples for HCV antibody testing. HCV-seronegative participants who reported NEP attendance at baseline and had at least one follow-up visit were eligible for this study. HCV incidence was calculated using the person-time method. Time-varying Cox regression modeling was conducted to evaluate the relationship between self-reported recent PCP visiting and HCV incidence.
Results: At baseline assessment, of 226 participants (80.5% male; median age: 30.6 years), 37.2% reported having recently visited a PCP. During 449.6 person-years of follow-up, 79 participants seroconverted to HCV [incidence rate: 17.6 per 100 person-years, 95% confidence interval (CI): 14.0-21.8]. Covariate-adjusted analyses indicated that visiting a PCP was associated with a lower risk of HCV infection [Adjusted Hazard Ratio: 0.54, 95% CI: 0.31-0.93]. Other independent predictors of HCV infection included unstable housing, cocaine injection and prescription opioid injection.
Conclusion: Among PWID attending NEP, visiting a PCP was associated with a lower risk of HCV infection. Yet, only a minority of participants reported PCP visiting. Efforts to intensify engagement with PCP among PWID could potentially contribute to lower HCV transmission when integrated within a combined approach to prevention.
Keywords: Drug use; Hepatitis C; Injection; Physician; Prevention; Primary care.
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