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This ongoing HCV transmission among high-risk prisoners argues for expansion of prevention programs to reduce HCV transmission in prisons. We recently documented incidence of 14.1 (95% CI 10.0–19.3) cases per 100 person-years in 37 prisons in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, and identified recent injection drug use and Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander descent as independent risk factors for HCV seroconversion ().
Furthermore, 13 incident cases were identified in a subcohort of 114 prisoners continuously imprisoned (i.e., without release to the community) during the study period (incidence 10.3 cases/100 person-years).
At ≈6-month intervals during participants’ incarceration, we collected demographic information, lifetime and follow-up risk behavior data, and blood samples for HCV serologic and virologic testing ().
For participants who had seroconverted at the incident time point (the time of sampling when a person is found to have already seroconverted), the date of infection was estimated as the midpoint between the first HCV antibody–positive and the last HCV antibody–negative test result.
In addition, prison sentences in Australia are typically short (average 7–9 months), but reincarceration rates are high ().
The hypervariable region (HVR) of the HCV genome is the most variable; hence, this region is commonly used in molecular epidemiologic studies to detect clusters of persons infected via recent transmission events ().
Prisons can be regarded as an enclosed network of facilities within which prisoners are frequently moved.
In NSW, prisoners are often transferred between prisons (e.g., because of changes in prisoner security classifications) and temporarily moved for brief periods (e.g., to go to court or obtain medical treatment).
Accordingly, virus sequencing and phylogenetic analysis have been used to reconstruct probable transmission chains from prevalent cases ().
Although broad linkages between HCV-infected persons have been demonstrated, previous efforts to identify probable transmission pairs among infected persons by using a combination of social network information and phylogenetic analysis techniques suggested that social and genetic distances were only weakly associated ().
We used incident case detection in prisons to identify clusters of recent HCV transmission.
The Hepatitis C Incidence and Transmission Study in Prisons (HITS-p) is a prospective study of a cohort of 498 prisoners with a history of injection drug use recruited from 37 prisons in NSW during 2005–2012 ( For our study, we considered a HITS-p subset of 79 prisoners infected with HCV genotype 1 or genotype 3 for which HCV E1-HVR1 sequences were available.
For each cluster of cases indicating recent transmission, potential transmission pairs (source and recipient) are identified as any 2 participants co-located in the same prison for at least 24 hours.