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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Impact of a Positive Hepatitis C Diagnosis On Homeless Injecting Drug Users: a Qualitative Study
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Increasing numbers of injecting drug users are presenting to primary care and a growing number of general practices are specifically providing care for homeless people. Injecting drug users are at the greatest risk of hepatitis C infection and homeless drug misusers, because of their drug-taking behaviour and patterns, have been identified as being at greater risk of harm of blood-borne diseases than the general population. However, little work has been conducted with injecting drug users or homeless people who have hepatitis C and little is known about how the virus may affect them.


To explore the impact of a positive hepatitis C diagnosis on homeless injecting drug users.

Design of study

This study employed qualitative research. In-depth interviews allowed the exploration of the impact of a potentially life-threatening diagnosis within the context of a person's expressed hierarchy of needs.


A primary care centre for homeless people in the north of England.


In-depth interviews about the impact of a positive hepatitis C diagnosis on their lives were conducted with 17 homeless injecting drug users who had received a positive hepatitis C diagnosis. The interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and analysed using the framework approach.


Receiving a positive diagnosis for hepatitis C resulted in feelings of shock, devastation, disbelief, anger, and questioning. A positive diagnosis had lasting social, emotional, psychological, behavioural, and physical effects on homeless injecting drug users, even years after the initial diagnosis. Most responders were diagnosed by a doctor in primary care or by hospital staff; however, not all had sought testing and a number were tested while inpatients and were unaware that blood had been taken for hepatitis C virus serology.


The implications for clinical policy and primary care practice are discussed, including the issues of patient choice, confidentiality, and pre- and post-test discussions. Post-test discussions should be followed up with additional social, psychological, and medical support and counselling. (Authors)