A recent study found that Vietnam War-era veterans did not report a higher prevalence of common hepatitis C virus risk factors compared with nonveterans, but they may have faced risk factors specific to their military service.
Previous studies suggest that veterans of the Vietnam War have higher rates of HCV infection, which is attributed to a greater prevalence of injection drug use. However, researchers said most of these studies have been conducted among patients in the Department of Veteran Affairs health care system.
To assess HCV risk factors among Vietnam veterans vs. nonveterans, researchers surveyed 4,636 HCV patients who received care in four health care systems outside the VA. Among the male respondents (n=2,638), 22.5% served in the US military at some point from 1964 to 1975.
Vietnam veterans had a lower prevalence of injection drug use compared with nonveterans (54% vs. 58%; P=.16). Other common risk factors for HCV infection, including occupational risk factors (P=.18), medical procedures (P=.61) and blood transfusions or organ transplantations (P=.94), were not more common among Vietnam veterans. Nonveterans were more likely than veterans to report sex with men (P=.013) as a risk factor for infection, but the prevalence was low (2.4% vs. 0.6%).
Vietnam veterans were more likely to report "other" risk factors as the source of their infection (P<.001) — namely, exposure to vaccinations during their military service. The researchers said that during the Vietnam War era, service members received multiple injections, typically with pneumatic injectors, as they moved through vaccination lines, and bleeding was not uncommon. This method of vaccination was later phased out by the military.
Although more research is needed, researchers concluded that clinicians can play an important role in the management of HCV in veterans.
Source: Boscarino JA. J Community Health. 2014.