Until a few years ago, scientific opinion held that Hepatitis C (HCV) was only transmitted in the blood, and therefore almost exclusively through blood transfusions or when injecting drugs with contaminated needles.
However, scientists then discovered that increasing numbers of homosexual HIV patients, also in Switzerland, were suffering from Hepatitis C, alongside intravenous drug users.
Roger Kouyos, Huldrych Günthard and their team at the University Hospital Zurich have now investigated whether this increase is due to transmission during sexual contact. They compared the molecular structure of HI viruses in almost 10,000 anonymised samples from patients participating in the Swiss HIV Cohort Study.
Where two patients share matching virus gene sequences, it is highly probable that one was infected by the other. The researchers were able to establish more than 1,500 pairs of patients, about whom it was additionally known whether they were also infected with Hepatitis C.Three times the risk
These findings are important for prevention. “HIV positive people who have Hepatitis C should not have unprotected sex,” said Huldrych Günthard, president of the HIV Cohort Study. Homosexuals appear to be particularly at risk. The reasons why remain unclear, according to the researchers. “One potential explanation is that anal sex results in increased blood exchange between partners,” said Günthard.
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