Could low dead-space syringes really reduce HIV transmission to low levels?

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Studies published by Zule and colleagues have suggested that use of low dead-space syringes (LDSS) instead of high dead-space syringes (HDSS) by injecting drug users (IDUs) could dramatically reduce HIV transmission. However, evidence is limited because experiments have considered a small range of syringe types and have been unable to reliably estimate the efficacy of using LDSS for reducing HIV transmission. We critically appraise available evidence to determine whether using LDSS is likely to dramatically reduce HIV transmission. We systematically review the literature on the dead-space volume of syringes and estimate the factor difference in blood volume transferred from sharing LDSS or HDSS. Existing data on the relationship between host viral load and HIV transmission risk is used to evaluate the likely efficacy of using LDSS instead of HDSS. An HIV transmission model is used to make conservative impact projections for switching to using LDSS, and explore the implications of heterogeneity in IDU transmission risk and syringe preferences. Although highly variable, reviewed studies suggest that HDSS have on average 10 times the dead-space volume of LDSS and could result in 6/54/489 times more blood being transferred after 0/1/2 water rinses. Assuming a conservative 2-fold increase in HIV transmission risk per 10-fold increase in infected blood inoculum, HDSS use could be associated with a mean 1.7/3.6/6.5-fold increase in transmission risk compared to LDSS for 0/1/2 rinses. However, even for a low efficacy estimate, modelling suggests that partially transferring to LDSS use from using HDSS could dramatically reduce HIV prevalence (generally >33% if LDSS use is 50%), but impact will depend on IDU behavioural heterogeneity and syringe preference. Indirect evidence suggests that encouraging HDSS users to use LDSS could be a powerful HIV prevention strategy. There is an urgent need to evaluate the real life effectiveness of this strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-14
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • Animals
  • Epidemics
  • Drug Users
  • Needle-Exchange Programs
  • HIV Infections
  • Humans
  • Syringes
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous


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