A Burnet Institute study aimed at eliminating hepatitis C in people who are also HIV-positive has been showcased at the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) in Durban, as a model that could be applied internationally.
In a presentation to a pre-conference plenary session, the 3rd International HIV/Viral Hepatitis Co-Infection Meeting, Professor Margaret Hellard said people who are HIV-positive are at greater risk of hepatitis C infection, particularly gay and bisexual men.
But she noted in her address, Current Trends Worldwide: Implications for Elimination, that people who are HIV-hepatitis C co-infected are in many ways easier to treat for hepatitis C than people who have hepatitis C alone.
“If they’re HIV infected, many of these people are already going to the doctor to get their medication and have their viral load checked, and their T-cell counts,” Professor Hellard said.
“They’re already engaged with their health services, which makes them an easier population to treat because of that engagement.”
Professor Hellard said Burnet researchers are making the most of this engagement in a project underway in Melbourne called the co-EC Study.
“In two years, we’re trying to treat as many people as possible to reduce the proportion of gay and bisexual men, and the general population who are HIV-infected, who have hepatitis C,” Professor Hellard said.
“If we can get that proportion right down then we stop new the transmissions.
Essentially we stop the deaths, we eliminate transmission and we eliminate hepatitis C.”
Professor Hellard, the Head of Burnet’s Centre for Population Health, believes the co-EC model could be applied effectively in many places and settings.
“If we look at how the disease transmits globally, you mostly see that people who are HIV-hep C co-infected, their network is quite contained, so you can treat within the network and be very successful at eliminating it,” she said.
“You then have to keep working on the prevention side of things and stopping reinfection and treating wherever you see it, but there’s real possibilities based on the reality on the ground and the models that we can eliminate hep C in hep C and HIV co-infected gay and bisexual men.”
Professor Hellard noted that the new direct acting anti viral treatments for hepatitis C work just as well in people who are HIV co-infected as in people who have hepatitis C infection alone.
The focus of the International HIV/Viral Hepatitis Co-Infection Meeting was to identify opportunities for increased diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis in people living with HIV, particularly in low and middle-income settings.