Population-level estimates of hepatitis C reinfection post scale-up of direct-acting antivirals among people who inject drugs

Alan Yeung (Lead / Corresponding author), Norah E. Palmateer, John F. Dillon, Scott A. McDonald, Shanley Smith, Stephen Barclay, Peter C. Hayes, Rory N. Gunson, Kate Templeton, David J. Goldberg, Matthew Hickman, Sharon J. Hutchinson

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Background & Aims: Scale-up of highly effective direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) for HCV among people who inject drugs (PWID) in Scotland has led to a reduction in the prevalence of viraemia in this population. However, the extent of reinfection among those treated with DAAs remains uncertain. We estimated HCV reinfection rates among PWID in Scotland by treatment setting, pre- and post-introduction of DAAs, and the potential number of undiagnosed reinfections resulting from incomplete follow-up testing.

Methods: Through linkage of national clinical and laboratory HCV data, a retrospective cohort of PWID who commenced treatment between 2000-2018 and achieved a sustained virological response (SVR) were followed up for reinfection to December 2019. Reinfection was defined as a positive HCV antigen or RNA test.

Results: Of 5,686 SVRs among 5,592 PWID, 4,126 (73%) had an HCV RNA or antigen test post-SVR. Of those retested, we identified 361 reinfections (3.9/100 person-years [PY]). The reinfection rate increased from 1.5/100 PY among PWID treated in 2000-2009 to 8.8/100 PY in 2017-2018. The highest reinfection rates were observed among those treated in prison (14.3/100 PY) and community settings (9.5/100 PY). Among those treated in the DAA era (2015-2018), 68% were tested within the first year post-SVR but only 30% in the second year; while 169 reinfections were diagnosed in follow-up, an estimated 200 reinfections (54% of the estimated total) had gone undetected.

Conclusions: HCV reinfection rates among PWID in Scotland have risen alongside the scale-up of DAAs and broadened access to treatment for those at highest risk, through delivery in community drug services. Promotion of HCV testing post-SVR among PWID is essential to ensure those reinfected are identified and retreated promptly. Lay summary: Increased rates of hepatitis C reinfection in Scotland were observed following the rapid scale-up of highly effective direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatments among people who inject drugs. This demonstrates that community-based treatment pathways are reaching high-risk groups, regarded vital in efforts to eliminate the virus. However, we estimate that less than half of reinfections have been detected in the DAA era because of inadequate levels of retesting beyond the first year following successful treatment. Sustained efforts that involve high coverage of harm reduction measures and high uptake of annual testing are required to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment of those reinfected if the goals of elimination are to be met.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-557
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue number3
Early online date8 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • Reinfection
  • HCV
  • PWID
  • Sustained virological response
  • SVR
  • Injecting
  • Incidence


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