“I learned so I can teach others to take care of themselves and not pass it on… I learned that there’s some pretty cool people in the world.”

The UFO project, which began in September of 1997 in San Francisco, is the name for a constellation of research studies and projects focusing primarily on hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV in IDUs under the age of thirty. UFO has consisted of several longitudinal research studies, with aims that include hepatitis C pathogenesis and immunogenesis, transmission risk behaviors, hepatitis vaccine uptake, sexually transmitted infections, and social networks of young injectors.

Read a synthesis of what we learned about young IDU in the past 12 years.


  • The first “UFO Study” assessed the prevalence of HIV, HBV and HCV infections.
  • We showed high seroprevalence of HCV and reported on HIV and risk factors.


  • We next began to study young IDU prospectively (UFO-3 Study). We assessed HIV and HCV incidence and HBV immunization feasibility conducted over a 2½ year period.
  • We showed a high rate of HCV seroconversion (25% per year) and identified important risk factors for HCV seroconversion, including sharing ancillary injecting equipment.
  • We tested adherence to and effectiveness of an accelerated HBV vaccine schedule.
  • We found that HIV infection among young male IDU was highly associated with sex work.
  • We also found high rates and risk factors for overdose and we explored gender-related risks.


In 2002, we began more in-depth studies of HCV infection (UFO Acute HCV Study). Using a novel testing algorithm combining antibody and viral tests, we identify young IDU in the very early or acute phase of HCV infection. This phase is very important for many reasons: antibody to HCV does not develop for up to 2 months following infection but HCV virus levels can be very high and risk for transmission is high. Some people with HCV will clear or get rid of HCV virus and assessing infection early allows us to study factors that are associated with viral clearance. Our group demonstrated the utility of this testing approach for identifying acute and serosilent HCV, and how it can help prevention.

  • We have followed 368 young IDU at risk of HCV and detected 135 new infections, which shows that HCV incidence is still high (27% per year).
  • Overall, 21% of participants with new HCV cleared virus spontaneously, but women were three times more likely to clear than men; 35% compared to 12%. This is an important new area to study in order to understand more about this infection.
  • We also found that a high proportion of young IDU who clear the virus, get reinfected and many re-clear again.
  • We continue to study immune factors in early infection, transmission factors between injecting partners and feasibility of treatment for young IDU with acute HCV.
  • We have assessed other important disease and drug related issues:
    • HBV infection and immunization rates;
    • methamphetamine use;
    • risk behaviors among traveling young IDU and
    • factors associated with stopping injecting and relapsing.

For more detail on the research and findings, please take a look at some of the research papers we have published.

Last modified: February 7, 2011