Hepatitis C risk perceptions and attitudes towards reinfection among HIV-diagnosed gay and bisexual men in Melbourne, Australia

Sophia E. Schroeder, Peter Higgs, Rebecca Winter, Graham Brown, Alisa Pedrana, Margaret Hellard, Joseph Doyle, Mark Stoové

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Introduction: Gay and bisexual men (GBM) are at increased risk of hepatitis C/HIV co-infection. In Australia, the availability of subsidized direct-acting antiviral treatment for hepatitis C has rendered eliminating co-infection possible. High reinfection rates in subgroups with continued exposure may compromise elimination efforts. To inform the development of hepatitis C risk reduction support in GBM, we explored reinfection risk perceptions and attitudes among GBM living with HIV recently cured from hepatitis C. Methods: Between April and August 2017, 15 GBM living with diagnosed HIV were recruited from high caseload HIV primary care services in Melbourne following successful hepatitis C treatment. In-depth interviews were conducted exploring understandings of hepatitis C risks, experiences of co-infection and attitudes towards reinfection. Constructivist grounded theory guided data aggregation. Results: Participants’ understandings of their hepatitis C infection and reinfection trajectories were captured in three categories. Hepatitis C and HIV disease dichotomies: Hepatitis C diagnosis was a shock to most participants and contrasted with feelings of inevitability associated with HIV seroconversion. While HIV was normalized, hepatitis C was experienced as highly stigmatizing. Despite injecting drug use, interviewees did not identify with populations typically at risk of hepatitis C. Risk environments and avoiding reinfection: Interviewees identified their social and sexual networks as risk-perpetuating environments where drug use was ubiquitous and higher risk sex was common. Avoiding these risk environments to avoid reinfection resulted in community disengagement, leaving many feeling socially isolated. Hepatitis C care as a catalyst for change: Engagement in hepatitis C care contributed to a better understanding of hepatitis C risks. Interviewees were committed to applying their improved competencies around transmission risk reduction to avoid reinfection. Interviewees also considered hepatitis C care as a catalyst to reduce their drug use. Conclusions: Hepatitis C/HIV co-infection among GBM cannot be understood in isolation from co-occurring drug use and sex, nor as separate from their HIV infection. Hepatitis C prevention must address subcultural heterogeneity and the intersectionality between multiple stigmatized social identities. Hepatitis C care presents an opportunity to provide support beyond cure. Peer support networks could mitigate social capital loss following a commitment to behaviour change and reduce hepatitis C reinfection risks.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25288
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the International AIDS Society
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • attitudes
  • direct-acting antivirals
  • gay and bisexual men
  • hepatitis C
  • HIV
  • reinfection
  • risk behaviours

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