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Keywords:

  • at-risk sexual behaviour;
  • HCV;
  • HIV;
  • prevention;
  • sexual transmission

Background

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is usually transmitted via the parenteral route, but there are widely discrepant findings on its possible sexual transmission. Thus there are no recommendations concerning protected sex for couples in which only one partner is HCV-infected. Whether HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases could favour HCV transmission remains unclear, but recent data suggesting an increasing incidence of acute HCV in HIV-infected men underline the major public health implications of this issue.

Case reports

Between June 2002 and July 2003, five HIV-infected homosexually active men presented with primary (n=4) and secondary (n=1) syphilis and concomitant abnormal liver function tests revealing acute asymptomatic HCV seroconversion. Other causes of acute viral hepatitis were inquired into and excluded. Highly at-risk sexual behaviour, including unprotected anal intercourse and unsafe oral sex, with concomitant syphilis, was found to be the only identifiable important risk factor for transmission of HCV.

Conclusions

Sexual transmission may be fuelling a significant increase in HCV seroconversions among HIV-infected men who have highly risky sexual behaviours. Given the recent data suggesting the spread of sexually transmitted infections among HIV-infected gay men, specific recommendations concerning safe sex are urgently needed.