Between 6 April and 1 May 1999, researchers visited 5 prisons in the Republic of Ireland daily and interviewed all those committed within the previous 48 hours.
An oral fluid sample was collected to determine the level of antibodies to hepatitis B and C viruses, and HIV.
The level of antibodies to hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV in prison entrants who had previously been imprisoned was similar to that found in the recent national survey of Irish prisoners.
However, the level of these antibodies was much lower in the third of prison entrants who had never previously been in prison.
Only 7% of those entering prison for the first time had ever injected drugs, compared with 40% of those previously imprisoned.
| A history of injecting drugs was the most important predictor of hepatitis antibodies.
| British Medical Journal |
The most important predictor of hepatitis antibodies was a history of injecting drugs, say the authors.
Tattooing in prison was also an independent risk factor for hepatitis C infection in prisoners who had never used injected drugs.
Unlike England and Wales, Ireland already has a program of proactive hepatitis B vaccination in prisons.
However, increased control measures, such as offering hepatitis B immunization to all prisoners during committal procedures, could further reduce rates of infection in Irish prisons, conclude the authors.