Introduction: Gay and bisexual men (GBM) are at increased risk of hepatitis C/HIV co-infection. In Australia, the availability of subsidized direct-acting antiviral treatment for hepatitis C has rendered eliminating co-infection possible. High reinfection rates in subgroups with continued exposure may compromise elimination efforts. To inform the development of hepatitis C risk reduction support in GBM, we explored reinfection risk perceptions and attitudes among GBM living with HIV recently cured from hepatitis C.
Methods: Between April and August 2017, 15 GBM living with diagnosed HIV were recruited from high caseload HIV primary care services in Melbourne following successful hepatitis C treatment. In-depth interviews were conducted exploring understandings of hepatitis C risks, experiences of co-infection and attitudes towards reinfection. Constructivist grounded theory guided data aggregation.
Results: Participants' understandings of their hepatitis C infection and reinfection trajectories were captured in three categories. Hepatitis C and HIV disease dichotomies: Hepatitis C diagnosis was a shock to most participants and contrasted with feelings of inevitability associated with HIV seroconversion. While HIV was normalized, hepatitis C was experienced as highly stigmatizing. Despite injecting drug use, interviewees did not identify with populations typically at risk of hepatitis C. Risk environments and avoiding reinfection: Interviewees identified their social and sexual networks as risk-perpetuating environments where drug use was ubiquitous and higher risk sex was common. Avoiding these risk environments to avoid reinfection resulted in community disengagement, leaving many feeling socially isolated. Hepatitis C care as a catalyst for change: Engagement in hepatitis C care contributed to a better understanding of hepatitis C risks. Interviewees were committed to applying their improved competencies around transmission risk reduction to avoid reinfection. Interviewees also considered hepatitis C care as a catalyst to reduce their drug use.
Conclusions: Hepatitis C/HIV co-infection among GBM cannot be understood in isolation from co-occurring drug use and sex, nor as separate from their HIV infection. Hepatitis C prevention must address subcultural heterogeneity and the intersectionality between multiple stigmatized social identities. Hepatitis C care presents an opportunity to provide support beyond cure. Peer support networks could mitigate social capital loss following a commitment to behaviour change and reduce hepatitis C reinfection risks.
Keywords: HIV; attitudes; direct-acting antivirals; gay and bisexual men; hepatitis C; reinfection; risk behaviours.
© 2019 The Authors. Journal of the International AIDS Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of the International AIDS Society.