Objective: To determine the seroprevalence of hepatitis A, B and C and the prevalence of risk factors for blood-borne infections in persons subject to homelessness attending a medical clinic in inner Sydney.
Method: During 2003-05, 201 clients were enrolled in a prospective study to determine the acceptance, completion rates and immunogenicity of the standard vaccination schedule for hepatitis A and B. On enrolment, clients completed a risk factor assessment questionnaire and undertook pre-vaccination serological screening for hepatitis A, B and C.
Results: Forty-five per cent (85/188) of clients were positive for anti-HCV antibodies; 32% (60/189) showed evidence of past infection with HBV (anti-HBc); and 48% (89/189) were positive for anti-HAV antibodies. It was not uncommon for clients to have multiple markers of hepatitis. A past history of injecting drug use was significantly associated with markers for hepatitis B and C; age predicted presence of anti-HAV. A verbal history of infection appeared more reliable for hepatitis C, but considerably less so for hepatitis A and B.
Conclusion: Persons subject to homelessness are at risk of blood-borne infection. The seroprevalence of markers for hepatitis B and C are higher than in the general population.
Implications: Despite the high proportion of clients with serological markers for hepatitis A and B, at least 69% of clients could potentially benefit from hepatitis A and/or B vaccination.