HCV testing rates low among IDUs in Thailand

Ti L. J Public Health. 2013;35:578-584.

  • January 22, 2014

Only one-third of Thai injection drug users reported getting tested for hepatitis C, according to study results published in the Journal of Public Health.

“Clinicians should be aware that although access to HIV testing has increased in most settings recently, rates of HCV testing among injection drug users (IDUs) remains low in some countries,” study researcher Thomas Kerr, PhD, co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, told Infectious Disease News. “It is important to ensure appropriate follow-up after testing for HCV is provided, including access to viral load testing and specialist care.”

Thomas Kerr, PhD 

Thomas Kerr

Kerr and colleagues used data from the Mitsampan Community Research Project to assess the prevalence and factors associated with HCV testing, such as education, drug use patterns and health care experiences, among 427 Thai IDUs aged 34 to 48 years.

Only 33% of the entire cohort reported getting tested for HCV, according to the researchers. Additional analyses indicated that factors such as having higher than secondary education (adjusted OR=2.2; 95% CI, 1.35-3.64) and binge drug use (adjusted OR=1.81; 95% CI, 1.21-2.93) were associated with a higher likelihood of getting tested for HCV.

“That these individuals were more likely to have been tested is a positive finding given that IDU who are binge users are at a high risk of acquiring HCV infection,” the researchers wrote.

IDUs receiving methadone also were more likely to get tested (adjusted OR=3.47; 95% CI, 1.85-6.95), demonstrating that drug treatment programs can provide access to additional health care services that offer HCV testing.

Other findings suggested poor communication between physicians and their patients. For example, among the 33 IDUs who tested positive for HCV, 54.5% were offered a viral load test and 27.3% were referred to an HCV specialist. Of those, 33.3% were offered HCV treatment at a cost.

Kerr and colleagues found that peer-based education significantly increased HCV testing among IDUs (adjusted OR=4.22; 95% CI, 2.66-6.77), which is consistent with previous findings. However, this type of intervention has not been supported by the Thai government and is typically funded through other sources.

“Efforts should be made to ensure better access to HCV testing and care among IDUs,” Kerr said. – John Schoen

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.