November 20, 2002
Encouraging injection drug users to clean their needles with bleach was discredited when studies showed that the practice was not effective in reducing the spread of HIV. However, new evidence suggests bleach may help curb the spread of hepatitis C.
The report, "Does Bleach Disinfection of Syringes Protect Against Hepatitis C Infection Among Young Adult Injection Drug Users?" was published in Epidemiology (2002;13(6)721). According to the authors, among more than 450 drug users studied, those who said they cleaned their needles with bleach all the time were 65 percent as likely to have hepatitis C as those who did not use bleach at all. Participants who said they used bleach "less than all the time" had a 24 percent lower risk of being infected.
Dr. Farzana Kapadia and Dr. David Vlahov, both of the New York Academy of Medicine, were the lead authors. Vlahov said the surest ways to avoid hepatitis C infection were abstaining and using clean syringes. Vlahov suggested that despite its flaws, bleaching might still offer some protection against HIV.
"Bleach was better than doing nothing," Vlahov explained. "But it was not a substitute for new clean needles each and every time."
New York Times
11.19.2002; Eric Nagourney