2016 National Prison Entrants’ Bloodborne Virus Survey Bulletin

The National Prison Entrants’ Blood Borne Virus Survey (NPEBBVS) was first conducted in 2004 to determine the prevalence of bloodborne viruses in Australian prisons and to examine risk factors associated with exposure. It aimed to provide information on prison entrants at risk of contracting bloodborne viruses as a result of injecting or other behaviours conducted prior to imprisonment. The first survey included New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania. In 2007, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia also participated, followed by the Northern Territory in 2010. In 2013, all Australian jurisdictions participated in the survey. The most recent survey in 2016 included all jurisdictions except Western Australia and New South Wales.

The NPEBBVS is internationally unique in providing a national snapshot of the prevalence of bloodborne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C in this at-risk population which is generally under-researched. Prior to the NPEBBVS, monitoring bloodborne virus infections among Australian prisoners occurred only through ad hoc prevalence surveys. The NPEBBVS also provides valuable information on patterns of drug use of those entering prison.

Key findings
  • Overall, the prevalence of hepatitis C decreased since 2004 but remains high among people who inject drugs compared to those who don’t.
  • Hepatitis B immunity is increasing along with a rise in frequency of vaccinations since 2007. However, hepatitis B prevalence remains high among Indigenous prisoners, with the highest rates in NT.
  • No inmates tested positive for HIV antibodies, compared with 3 in 2004 and 4 in 2007. Moreover, the number of inmates being tested for HIV has increased.
  • Methamphetamine was the most commonly reported illicit drug last injected.
  • Tobacco and cannabis were the most used substances in the past month.
  • There has been an increase in inmates reporting that in the community, a sterile needle was used for every injection. This increased from 69% in 2004 to 76% in 2016.
  • 80% of inmates in 2016 reported never using someone else’s needle when injecting in the community, and instead, needles were obtained mostly from needle and syringe programs or chemists.