Background: Spanish prisons have a high number of inmates whose behaviour puts them at risk of being infected by hepatitis C virus (HCV). The object of this study was to establish the prevalence of this infection and its associated factors in the prison population of the north-east of Spain.
Methods: Inmates in seven prisons in the north-east of Spain were studied. Socio-demographic and prison variables were gathered, as well as risk factors for infection by HCV. Antibodies against HCV were determined (EIA and INNO-LIA HCV III), Hepatitis B virus (VHB) (EIA), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (EIA and Western-Blott). The analysis of associated factors was based on logistic regression.
Results: Of the total number of inmates studied, 47.9% presented HCV antibodies. There was greater prevalence in the case of the following: UDVP (89.6%); those who shared needles (94%); those infected by HIV (92.7%); carriers of Australia antigen (65.1%) and antibodies to the HBV core antigen (79.8%); those who had been in prison before (60.9%); unmarried men (54.8%); gypsies (52%); unqualified workers (50.4%); those who had no basic school qualifications (50.9%); those with tattoos (66.7%); and those with a background of self-inflicted injuries (79.3%). In the logistic regression analysis the variables associated to infection by HCV were: UDVP (OR = 33.3; I.C. 95% = 25-50), HBcAc (+) (OR = 4.1; I.C. 95% = 1.1-5.3), age (OR = 0.98; I.C. 95% = 0.96-1.00), months in prison (OR = 1.011; I.C. 95% = 1.004-1.019) and a background of previous prison sentences (OR = 2.3; I.C. 95% = 1.5-3.6).
Conclusions: The prevalence of infection by HCV in prison inmates is very high. It is therefore recommended that preventive measures be increased (harm reduction programmes) and that clinical and analysis protocols be drawn up for those infected and for treatment in cases of chronic active hepatitis in order to control this serious public health problem.