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High prevalence of late relapse and reinfection in prisoners treated for chronic hepatitis C


Associate Professor Hugh AJ Harley, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, North Terrace, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia. Email:


Background and Aim:  Prisoners have a high prevalence of injection drug use (IDU) and chronic hepatitis C (CHC) infection. Treatment of CHC in these patients is effective; however, their long-term outcomes following treatment are unknown. We determined the durability of a sustained virological response (SVR) in prisoners treated for CHC.

Methods:  Patients were treated as part of routine clinical practice with interferon (IFN) and ribavirin. A retrospective review of medical records and a computerized pathology system was performed for clinical and laboratory information.

Results:  Seventy-four prisoners (70 males, mean age 34 years, IDU in 55%) were evaluable for a SVR over a 12-year period to December 2008; the mean follow-up period was 1243 days. Genotype 1, 2, 3, and 6 infection was present in 18, three, 38 and three patients, respectively; the genotype was unknown in 12. Three out of 52 biopsied had cirrhosis. Standard IFN was administered to 25 (34%; 11 with ribavirin), and 49 received pegylated IFN and ribavirin; one did not complete treatment, and two had breakthrough relapses. The end-of-treatment response was achieved in 57 and SVR in 53; 14 were non-responders. Five male patients, four with unknown genotypes and treated with standard IFN alone, relapsed late (following SVR, 9%). Five patients, all treated with pegylated IFN and ribavirin, were reinfected (one prior to and four following SVR).

Conclusions:  Prisoners are often successfully treated for CHC. However, this retrospective study indicates that there is a high (17%) prevalence of late recurrence of viremia that is likely a reflection of reinfection due to ongoing risk-taking behavior.