Kantonsspital St.Gallen

Response to a sexual risk reduction intervention provided in combination with hepatitis C treatment by HIV/HCV co-infected men who have sex with men: a reflexive thematic analysis

Patrizia Künzler-Heule, Katharina Fierz, Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Manuela Rasi, Jasmina Bogdanovic, Agnes Kocher, Sandra Engberg, Manuel Battegay, Christiana Nöstlinger, Andreas Lehner, Roger Kouyos, Patrick Schmid, Dominique Laurent Braun, Jan Fehr & Dunja Nicca


Hepatitis C virus reinfections in HIV-positive men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) challenge the effectiveness of antiviral treatment. To fight this problem, an adapted sexual risk reduction intervention was implemented within a hepatitis C treatment trial. Following this, the current study had two aims and describes 1) how the program was received by participants; and 2) their responses to the program regarding sexual risk taking. Based on the participants' input, we hoped to judge the intervention's potential for scale-up.

Seventeen participants who received the sexual risk reduction intervention in addition to hepatitis C treatment were recruited for semi-structured interviews six to 12 months post-intervention. We evaluated the responses via reflexive thematic analysis and applied the concept of sense-making.

Giving hepatitis C a place and living without it again illustrates how participants received the program and how their experiences were altered by the impact of sense-making. Based on their responses, we allocated participants to three groups: 1. Avoid risks: get rid of hepatitis C for life. For these men, hepatitis C remained a life-threatening disease: they actively modified their risk behavior and felt supported by the intervention in maintaining their behavioral changes. 2. Minimize risks: live as long as possible without hepatitis C. In contrast to group 1, these men saw hepatitis C as a manageable disease. The intervention facilitated reflection on risks and how to develop behavioral changes that suited them individually. 3. Accept risks; live with the risk of hepatitis C. These men perceived behavioral changes as much more difficult than "easy" medical treatment. They expected to either undergo repeated rounds of treatment or stay HCV re-infected.

These results illustrate the diversity of men's responses and their decisions regarding sexual risk behavior after participating in a combination of antiviral treatment and a sexual risk reduction intervention. Two major aspects were identified: 1) Teachable moments, particularly at the time of diagnosis/treatment, could offer an opportunity to develop openness for behavioral change; 2) adapting sexual risk reduction interventions to sense-making patterns could help to improve its effectiveness. Support for reducing infection risk and raising awareness of preventative measures are additional benefits.

Clinical Trial Number: NCT02785666 , 30.05.2016.
citation Künzler-Heule P, Fierz K, Schmidt A J, Rasi M, Bogdanovic J, Kocher A, Engberg S, Battegay M, Nöstlinger C, Lehner A, Kouyos R, Schmid P, Braun D L, Fehr J, Nicca D. Response to a sexual risk reduction intervention provided in combination with hepatitis C treatment by HIV/HCV co-infected men who have sex with men: a reflexive thematic analysis. BMC Infect Dis 2021; 21:319.
type journal paper/review (English)
date of publishing 06-04-2021
journal title BMC Infect Dis (21/1)
ISSN electronic 1471-2334
pages 319
PubMed 33823783
DOI 10.1186/s12879-021-06003-z