Study: Among street-involved youth, women twice as likely to be infected with hepatitis C

published on March 23, 2015

Vancouver, BC [March 23, 2015] Among street-involved youth in Vancouver, women are twice as likely to contract the hepatitis C virus (HCV), according to a new study by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) published in The Journal of Adolescent Health.

From September 2005 to November 2011, 940 youth were recruited into the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), a cohort of street-involved youth in Vancouver, meaning they have been homeless in the past six months or have recently used a service such as housing or nutrition support. All youth completed baseline HCV testing when enrolled in the study.

Just over 10% of participants became HCV positive during study follow-up, with female participants being twice as likely as males to acquire HCV. The risk factors for HCV transmission were similar for both sexes, and included crystal methamphetamine and heroin injection. Syringe sharing was associated with HCV acquisition among males only.

“For all youth in the study, injection drug use – notably heroin and crystal meth – emerged as a significant risk factor,” said Dr. Kora DeBeck, Research Scientist at the BC-CfE and Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University. “Prevention interventions for this population need to take that into account and, importantly, tailor their outreach and services to the needs of young women.”

Worldwide, HCV infection remains a leading cause of illness and death. In Canada, the annual HCV-related death toll is expected to increase markedly from 483 in 2007 to 613 by 2027. Based on 2012 national surveillance data, on a national scale, men have higher rates of hepatitis C diagnosis than women (36.8 per 100,000 compared to 21.5 per 100,000).

“Addiction prevention and treatment among youth is key to mitigating the injection-related harms that continue to drive the HCV epidemic in Vancouver and elsewhere,” said Dr. Nitasha Puri, lead study author and alumni of the St. Paul’s Hospital GoldCorp Addiction Medicine Fellowship. “Similarly, by expanding and enhancing HCV treatment and prevention efforts to correspond to the needs of groups like street-involved youth, especially female youth, there is a real opportunity to improve outcomes and avoid a worsening of the HCV epidemic.”

The mandate of the BC-CfE is to improve the health of British Columbians through the development, ongoing monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive investigative and treatment programs for HIV and other viral diseases. Within BC, the BC-CfE has successfully applied Treatment as Prevention (TasP) in reducing HIV morbidity and mortality, as well as new rates of HIV infection. The BC-CfE is in negotiations with the BC Minister of Health to apply the TasPïë strategy and infrastructure to the targeted elimination of hepatitis C in the province.

About ARYS and the Urban Health Research Initiative

The Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI), established in 2007, is a program of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. UHRI’s mission is to improve the health of individuals and communities through research to inform policy. Led by principal investigators Drs. Evan Wood and Thomas Kerr, UHRI is based on a network of studies, including ARYS, that have been developed to help identify and understand the many factors that affect the health of urban populations, with a focus on substance use, infectious diseases, the urban environment and homelessness. ARYS, funded by the US National Institutes on Drug Abuse and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has pioneered some of the first studies on factors leading to intravenous drug use among youth.

The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is internationally recognized as an innovative world leader in combating HIV/AIDS and related diseases. BC-CfE is based at St. Paul’s Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE works in close collaboration with key provincial stakeholders, including the B.C. government, health authorities, health care providers, academics from other institutions, and the community to decrease the health burden of HIV and AIDS. By developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related illnesses, the BC-CfE helps improve the health of British Columbians living with HIV.

About St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation

St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation raises funds to support St. Paul’s Hospital, a globally acknowledged centre for innovation, research, teaching and care. St. Paul’s provides care to more than 380,000 patients across B.C. each year, including many services available nowhere else in the province. St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation raised $15.99 million for equipment, research and patient care in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. For more information, visit

For additional information or to request interviews, please contact:

Caroline Dobuzinskis
Phone: 604-682-2344
Cell: 604-366-6540
Email: [email protected]