Adelaidean - News from the University of Adelaide The University of Adelaide Australia
May 2007 Issue
Current issue (PDF) | Archive | Editorial Contact

Hepatitis C rife in our prisons

 Public Health

Hepatitis C infection is endemic among the South Australian prison population, with 42% of the State's 1700 prisoners infected with the virus, according to a University of Adelaide study.

Epidemiologist and University of Adelaide PhD graduate Dr Emma Miller said injecting drug use is common among the State's prison population and responsible for the high rate of the blood-borne virus in SA's prisons.

"Seventy per cent of people entering our prisons have a history of injecting drug use and although most of them modify that behaviour in prison, contaminated needles represent a significant threat to other prisoners and staff," Dr Miller said.

Tattoos also account for up to 5% of all newly notified cases of Hepatitis C in South Australia, the study found. The majority of these tattoos are applied within the prison system.

Approximately 700 inmates were interviewed for the 15-month study of South Australia's eight publicly operated prisons, which revealed an entry prevalence of Hepatitis C approximately 40 times higher than in the general population.

The figure for female prison entrants is even higher, at 65%.

In a bid to reduce the spread of Hepatitis C in the prison system, Dr Miller has made several recommendations to the SA Department for Correctional Services and SA Department of Health.

"A successful methadone program is already well established and positively evaluated in all of our prisons, but it's currently the only systematic strategy in place specifically aimed at reducing the transmission of blood-borne viruses in prison," she said.

Dr Miller conducted the study as part of her PhD in Medicine, which she completed in 2006. She graduated at an offshore ceremony in Hong Kong last month, along with 40 other University of Adelaide students.

Dr Peng Bi from the School of Population Health and Clinical Practice supervised Dr Miller's PhD. Dr Miller is now working as an epidemiologist at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne.

Story by Candy Gibson

Bookmark and Share

Photo by David Ritter

Photo by David Ritter
Full Image (43.31K)

Media Contact:

Media Office
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814

For more news on the research and educational achievements of the University & our alumni read the University's bi-annual magazine, Lumen.