Injecting drug users from the GLBT community are being asked to take part in a hepatitis C research study conducted by the National Centre in HIV Social Research.

A series of focus groups will be asked about their knowledge of hep C, whether they consider it to be much of a health risk, what they know of treatments and whether they would consider being part of a vaccine trial.

Research Associate, Doctor Pol McCann, said the information would be accessed by a range of organisations that will prepare candidate vaccines for trial.

“This research is really important because hep C is a massive problem,” he said.

“Around 200,000 Australians are infected and it affects about two percent of the population worldwide.”

McCann was also quick to stress that this was the first stage in a long research process. There is no vaccine for hep C at this point in time, so members from the community should remain vigilant.

“Our greatest fear as researchers is that people will hear the news that a vaccine might be being developed and think that they can relax,” McCann said.

“This is such an infectious disease and it is so vital that people keep up safe drug-taking practices.

“The people who are most at risk of hep C are injecting drug users. The infection rate is over 50 percent of the regular using community and daily users are 80 percent likely to have hep C within two years of commencing shooting up.

“GLBT communities have high rates of substance abuse compared to other Australian populations and it is a very heterogenous community: from employed GLBT people who occasionally shoot up and go to a party to people with severe mental illnesses who use drugs to self-medicate, and their risk of infection and knowledge will be different accordingly.

“We would like to conduct a focus group to find out the particular contexts in which GLBT injectors use, how they perceive the impact that hep C can have on lives and ascertain their attitudes towards being in a vaccine program – what would motivate them to be in a trial and what makes them hesitate.”

To be involved call McCann on 9385 6407.

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