The distribution and socioeconomic burden of Hepatitis C virus in South Australia: a cross-sectional study 2010–2016
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BACKGROUND: Hepatitis C virus infection (HCV) is a communicable disease of increasing global importance with 1.75 million new infections and 400,000 related deaths annually. Until recently, treatment options have had low uptake and most infected people remain untreated. New Direct Acting Antiviral medications can clear the virus in around 95% of cases, with few side-effects. These medications are restricted in most countries but freely accessible in Australia, yet most people still remain untreated. This study applies a cross-sectional research design to investigate the socio-spatial distribution of HCV in South Australia, to identify vulnerable populations, and examine epidemiological factors to potentially inform future targeted strategies for improved treatment uptake. METHOD: HCV surveillance data were sourced from South Australia’s Communicable Diseases Control Branch and socio-economic population data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics from January 2010 to December 2016 inclusive. HCV cases were spatially mapped at postcode level. Multivariate logistic regression identified independent predictors of demographic risks for HCV notification and notification source. RESULTS: HCV notifications (n = 3356) were seven times more likely to be from people residing in the poorest areas with high rates of non-employment (75%; n = 1876) and injecting drug use (74%; n = 1862) reported. Notifications among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were around six times that of non-Indigenous people. HCV notifications negatively correlated (Spearman’s rho − 0.426; p < 0.001) with socio-economic status (residential postcode socio-economic resources Index). History of imprisonment independently predicted HCV diagnoses in lesser economically-resourced areas (RR1.5; p < 0.001). Independent predictors of diagnosis elsewhere than in general practices were non-employment (RR 4.6; p = 0.028), being male (RR 2.5; p < 0.001), and younger than mean age at diagnosis (RR 2.1; p = 0.006). CONCLUSIONS: Most people diagnosed with HCV were from marginalised sub-populations. Given general practitioners are pivotal to providing effective HCV treatment for many people in Australia a most concerning finding was that non-employed people were statistically less likely to be diagnosed by general practitioners. These findings highlight a need for further action aimed at improving healthcare access and treatment uptake to help reduce the burden of HCV for marginalised people, and progress the vision of eliminating HCV as a major public health threat.
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