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Addiction. 2008 Oct;103(10):1593-603. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02306.x.

The social production of hepatitis C risk among injecting drug users: a qualitative synthesis.

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Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, London, UK.



Intervention impact on reductions in hepatitis C virus (HCV) incidence among injecting drug users (IDUs) are modest. There is a need to explore how drug injectors' interpret HCV risk.


To review English-language qualitative empirical studies of HCV risk among IDUs.


Qualitative synthesis using a meta-ethnographic approach. Searching of eight electronic databases and reference lists identified manually papers in peer-reviewed journals since 2000. Only studies investigating IDU perspectives on HCV risk were included. Themes across studies were identified systematically and compared, leading to a synthesis of second- and third-order constructs.


We included 31 papers, representing 24 studies among over 1000 IDUs. Seven themes were generated: risk ubiquity; relative viral risk; knowledge uncertainty; hygiene and the body; trust and intimacy; risk environment; and the individualization of risk responsibility. Evidence supports a perception of HCV as a risk accepted rather than avoided. HCV was perceived largely as socially accommodated and expected, and in relative terms to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the 'master status' of viral dangers. Symbolic knowledge systems, rather than biomedical risk calculus, and especially narratives of hygiene and trust, played a primary role in shaping interpretations of HCV risk. Critical factors in the risk environment included policing, homelessness and gendered risk.


Appealing to risk calculus alone is insufficient. Interventions should build upon the salience of hygiene and trust narratives in HCV risk rationality, and foster community changes towards the perceived preventability of HCV. Structural interventions in harm reduction should target policing, homelessness and gendered risk.

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