European Drugs and Addiction library

Increasing prevalence of HIV infection among first time clients in Italian drug treatment services – is it sexual transmission?

Summary: 

Changes in injection practice and type of drugs used do not support drug injection as the main explanation for an increased HIV transmission in people entering drug treatment services and the possibility of increased sexual transmission needs to be considered.

Main subject: 

Abstract

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Background
Over the last two decades, the proportion of people who inject drugs among newly reported HIV cases in Italy has been continuously declining. This trend is reflected in the prevalence of HIV infection among problem drug users followed in drug treatment services. We report nationwide trends in the prevalence of HIV and HCV among tested clients in charge to drug addiction services from 2005 to 2011.
Methods
Data on the prevalence of HIV and HCV among drug users from public drug treatment services across Italy were collected and analyzed for the period from 2005 to 2011. Prevalence of HIV and HCV were compared between clients returning to treatment and those entering treatment for the first time, and by gender. Due to the high percentage of missing data, the “inverse probability weight” method was used. Trends in testing uptake were also analysed.
Results
A significant decrease of HIV and HCV prevalence is observed among all PDUs entering treatment (from 14.7% to 11.1% and from 61.6% to 50%, respectively, in 2005–2011). By contrast, among those entering the services for the first time, after an initial decline the prevalence of HIV infection steadily increased in both sexes, from 2.2% in 2009 to 5.3% in 2011. Self-reported injecting rates in this group decreased over time, and in 2011 the proportion reporting drug injecting was lower among new clients than in people returning to services (14.5 vs. 34.4%). We also observed a progressive and significant reduction in HIV and HCV testing in drug treatment services.
Conclusions
Changes in injection practice and type of drugs used, coupled with a concurrent reduction in HCV prevalence, do not support drug injection as the main explanation for an increased HIV transmission in people entering drug treatment services for the first time. While reductions in testing rates raise concerns over data quality, the possibility of increased sexual transmission needs to be considered.