The objective of this study was to assess differences in hepatitis C virus (HCV) incidence by sex in people who inject drugs (PWID), using a large international multi-cohort set of pooled biological and behavioral data from prospective observational studies of incident HIV and HCV infections in high-risk cohorts (the InC3 Collaborative).
HCV infection date was estimated based on a hierarchy of successive serological (anti-HCV), virological (HCV RNA) and clinical (symptoms and/or liver function tests) data. We used a Cox proportional hazard model to calculate the crude and adjusted female to male (F:M) hazard ratio (HR) for HCV incidence using biological sex as the main exposure.
A total of 1868 PWID were observed over 3994 person-years observation (PYO). Unadjusted F:M HR was 1.38 (95%CI: 1.15, 1.65) and remained significant after adjusting for behavioral and demographic risk factors 1.39 (95%CI: 1.12- 1.72). Although syringe and equipment sharing were associated with the highest HCV incidence rate in females (41.62 and 36.83 PYO, respectively), we found no sex differences attributed to these risk factors.
Our findings indicate that women who inject drugs may be at greater risk of HCV acquisition than men, independent of demographic characteristics and risk behaviors. Multiple factors, including biological (hormonal), social network, and differential access to prevention services, may contribute to increased HCV susceptibility in women who inject drugs.