This site is intended for health professionals only

HIV and hepatitis risk for steroid users

People who inject anabolic steroids and tanning drugs are at a higher risk of HIV and viral hepatitis, a study from Public Health England (PHE) has revealed. 

Published in BMJ Open, the study found that one in 18 injectors have been exposed to hepatitis C (hep C), one in 11 have been exposed to hepatitis B (hep B) and one in 15 have HIV. 

Overall, 10% of people who use injectable image or performance enhancers have been exposed to one or more of HIV, hep B or hep C, suggesting that transmission of blood borne viruses is common in this group. 

These infections can either result from unsafe injecting practises or unprotected sex. 

Lead author Dr Vivian Hope, a PHE expert in infections among people who inject drugs said: “Our study suggests that levels of HIV and hepatitis infection among men using image and performance enhancing drugs have increased since the 1990s. 

“While we must be cautious in generalising these early findings, they are concerning and show that further research is required.”

Use of psychoactive drugs such as cocaine was also high in this population (46%) along with sexual risk behaviours - only 20% of those having sex in the preceding year reported always using condoms. 

Dr Fortune Ncube, consultant epidemiologist and PHE Injecting Drug Use lead said: “These findings suggest serious health implications for users of image and performance enhancing drugs, but also for their sexual partners and ultimately the wider community.” 

Dr Ncube said more should be done to strengthen public health interventions, including ensuring that providers of confidential testing services are aware of the risks of injecting steroids or tanning drugs.