Uncertainty surrounds why hepatitis C virus (HCV) is concentrated among HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM). We used mathematical modelling to explore reasons for these infection patterns, and implications for HCV treatment-as-prevention.
Using a joint MSM HIV/HCV transmission model parameterized with UK behavioural data, we considered how biological (heightened HCV infectivity and reduced spontaneous clearance among HIV-positive MSM) and/or behavioural factors (preferential sexual mixing by HIV status and risk heterogeneity) could concentrate HCV infection in HIV-positive MSM as commonly observed (5-20 times the HCV prevalence in HIV-negative MSM; defined as the HCV ratio). We explored how HCV treatment-as-prevention impact varies under differing HCV ratios.
Biological factors produced low HCV ratios (< 3), not explaining the skewed epidemic. However, combining preferential mixing by HIV status with sexual risk behaviour heterogeneity produced high HCV ratios (> 10) that were highly sensitive to both factors. Irrespective of the HCV ratio or behavioural/biological factors, HCV treatment of HIV-diagnosed MSM markedly reduced the HCV prevalence among HIV-positive MSM, but less impact was achieved among all MSM for lower HCV ratios.
Sexual behaviour patterns likely drive observed HCV infection patterns among HIV-positive MSM. Changes in these patterns could disseminate HCV amongst HIV-negative MSM, limiting the impact of targeting HCV treatment to HIV-diagnosed MSM.