Discovery in London leads to reduction of HIV transmissions among drug users

A discovery by a group of London researchers has led to the reduction of HIV transmission among injection drug users.

In 2016, HIV rates among injection drugs users more than doubled in London as researchers were trying to determine what was happening.

“It was quite unusual and concerning not just because of the high numbers,” says Dr. Michael Silverman, scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute.

Silverman says in order to find out why the spike in HIV rates was happening, the research team interviewed 119 injection drug users and observed how they prepared a drug called hydromorph contin.

“We found that sharing and reuse of hydromorph contin, particularity reuse of the equipment to make it was almost universal,” says Dr. Eric Arts from the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry,

He took that information and worked with scientist in the lab to replicate the preparation of the drug.

“What we did was we spiked in different amounts of HIV into that same system to see if the virus could survive those conditions and remarkably it did survive,” Arts says.

As it turned out, it wasn’t needle sharing, but sharing what’s called the wash, the liquid that the drug is prepared in, that was the problem.

After tests in the lab, Arts and his team concluded that heating the wash is the way to prevent the spread of HIV.

“Heating it with a flame and bringing it to a low boil, we discovered that in itself - especially if you did it twice - would completely destroy the virus.”

Shortly after the discovery, a public health campaign called Cook Your Wash was promoted in the city.

“We did this campaign we started it in June 2017 and thereafter the outbreak dramatically slowed and the number of new cases fell dramatically,” Silverman says.

The next step is to spread the Cook Your Wash campaign to other cities that are experiencing a spike of HIV cases among injection drug users.