Objective: To report the prevalence of markers for HIV infection, hepatitis B and hepatitis C among Australian prison entrants.
Design: Cross-sectional survey conducted over 2-week periods in 2004, 2007 and 2010.
Setting: Reception prisons in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia.
Participants: Individuals entering prison from the community during the survey periods.
Main outcome measure: Prevalence of anti-HIV antibody (anti-HIV), hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), anti-hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc) and anti-hepatitis C virus antibody (anti-HCV).
Results: The study included 1742 prison entrants: 588 (33.8%) in 2004, 536 (30.8%) in 2007 and 618 (35.5%) in 2010. The age-standardised prevalence estimates for anti-HIV, HBsAg and anti-HBc were 0.4%, 2.3% and 21.7% respectively, and remained stable over the three survey periods. The age-standardised prevalence estimate for anti-HCV was 29.0%; it decreased over time (33.3% in 2004 v 23.2% in 2010; P = 0.001), and this coincided with a decrease in prison entrants reporting injecting drug use (58.3% [343/588] in 2004 v 45.3% [280/618] in 2010; P < 0.001). Among injecting drug users, the prevalence of anti-HCV was 57.2% and did not change significantly over time. Of those who were anti-HCV positive, 33.7% (140/415) were unaware of their infection status, and 74.3% (185/249) of those who tested positive for anti-HBc reported that they had never had hepatitis B.
Conclusions: HIV prevalence is low in the Australian prisoner population but transmission remains a risk. Despite a decrease in the proportion of prison entrants reporting injecting drug use, prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C has remained high. Treatment and prevention initiatives should be prioritised for this population.
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