A report released by the Health Protection Agency shows that around one in 50 Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) in the UK are now infected with HIV. This is around twice the level seen at the beginning of the decade. In particular the HIV prevalence amongst those injecting for less than three years has increased since 2002. Increasing evidence suggests that crack cocaine is a major factor.
The report called Shooting Up , which was presented at the Agency’s board meeting in Belfast today, monitors levels of infections amongst Injecting Drug Users (IDU) and shows there is cause for concern with this group continuing to be affected by various infectious diseases associated with injecting.
Dr Fortune Ncube who compiled the report for the Agency said, ? The associations between crack-cocaine use and higher levels of HIV and hepatitis C infection are a concern, as evidence shows that the use and injecting of crack-cocaine is becoming more common. However, factors that lead to crack-cocaine injection and its prevention need further investigation?.
The report also found that w hilst levels of HIV remain high among current IDUs in London with around one in 25 infected, the recent increase in the number of cases has been greatest elsewhere in England and Wales outside of London , rising from around one in 400 in 2003 to about one in 65 in 2005.
In recent years the Agency has also seen a problem with hepatitis C infection among IDUs. Overall, almost half of current IDUs have now been infected with hepatitis C. Most cases are a result of sharing contaminated needles, syringes and other injecting equipment. There are also indications that injecting into the groin may be becoming more common. However, because most people do not experience any symptoms when they first become infected, carriers of the virus are unaware and can unknowingly pass it onto others.
The report also suggests that the prison vaccination programme is a major factor in the increased uptake of hepatitis B vaccination amongst IDUs. However the report highlights the need to improve this provision through other programmes such as needle exchange services , as the virus is still being passed on.
Sir William Stewart, the Agency’s Chairman said, “This report indicates that injecting drug users are continuing to contract a wide range of preventable and treatable infections and it is important that our surveillance systems are maintained and developed to monitor these infections. There is an immediate need for research and development programmes to evaluate the required mix and coverage of interventions that aim to prevent infections , including specialist drug treatment , needle exchange schemes and targeted outreach.
?In order to reduce the harm associated with problem drug use, primary care bodies and Drug Action Teams should give priority to preventing the spread of infections among IDUs and reducing the harm that these infections cause?.