An outbreak of hepatitis A virus (HAV) among gay and bisexual men who have sex with men (MSM) has been reported in many countries including the UK, European countries and Australia recently. HAV is a viral infection that affects the liver and it can be transmitted through contaminated food and water, faeco-oral contacts and sexual contacts. Many people infected with HAV do not develop symptoms. These infected individuals may not be aware of their infection and it will lead to ongoing transmission.
In 2017, there were 68 confirmed outbreak cases in Victoria and one death. Most of the cases were among local MSM in Victoria who had not travelled overseas. The last outbreaks of hepatitis A occurred more than 20 years ago. It has been a worrying and emerging public health concern that these infections are circulating among MSM within the sexual networks. MSM usually have multiple partners and about 70% of MSM had engaged in oro-anal sexual contact (i.e. “rimming”) in the last 6 months, these activities are at higher risk in acquiring HAV.
One of the most effective ways of preventing HAV is vaccination and this has led the Victorian government to fund a targeted 1-year campaign to provide free the full course of 2 doses HAV vaccine (Harvix®) to all MSM in Victoria in 2018. All GBM can access the free vaccine through sexual health clinics and GP clinics.
From 2018, the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC) started to provide free HAV vaccine. MSHC is the largest sexual health service in Victoria and provides 50,000 consultations a year with about 40% were GBM. All MSM attending MSHC are offered for the vaccine. However, this only captures sexually-active MSM who attend MSHC for the routine check-up and may not be able to capture all MSM at risk in the community. Due to the social stigma, MSM is a hidden and hard-to-reach population. We aim to launch a 6-month online social media campaign to improve the knowledge, awareness and vaccine uptake rate of HAV among MSM in Victoria.
This 6-month social media campaign on HAV includes a series of key messages about the transmission route of HAV, prevention of HAV and HAV vaccine advocacy.