Measures needed to reduce bloodborne infections in Irish prisons

November 22, 2001

Prevalence of antibodies to hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV and risk factors in entrants to Irish prisons BMJ Volume 323, pp 1209-13

There is an urgent need for increased infection control and harm reduction measures to reduce the transmission of hepatitis B and C viruses, and HIV in Irish prisons, concludes a study in this week's BMJ.

Between 6 April and 1 May 1999, researchers visited five prisons in the Republic of Ireland daily and interviewed all those committed within the previous 48 hours. An oral fluid sample was collected to determine the level of antibodies to hepatitis B and C viruses, and HIV.

The level of antibodies to hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV in prison entrants who had previously been imprisoned was similar to that found in the recent national survey of Irish prisoners. However, the level of these antibodies was much lower in the third of prison entrants who had never previously been in prison.

Only 7% of those entering prison for the first time had ever injected drugs, compared with 40% of those previously imprisoned. The most important predictor of hepatitis antibodies was a history of injecting drugs, say the authors. Tattooing in prison was also an independent risk factor for hepatitis C infection in prisoners who had never used injected drugs.

Unlike England and Wales, Ireland already has a programme of proactive hepatitis B vaccination in prisons. However, increased control measures, such as offering hepatitis B immunisation to all prisoners during committal procedures, could further reduce rates of infection in Irish prisons, conclude the authors.
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BMJ

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