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The UFO Study

“UFO made me much more aware of areas of my behavior and people I was with, where I took risks and didn’t. Counseling helped me recognize the patterns” -UFO client

UFO's phone number: 1-888-829-6884 (1-888-UC-YOUTH)

The UFO Study is a constellation of research studies and projects focusing primarily on viral hepatitis, particularly hepatitis C virus (HCV), among young injection drug users (IDU) in San Francisco. UFO began in September of 1997 and is now continuing through its 12th year. Read about the research we have conducted, and what we've learned in the past 12 years.

Why young IDU?

Young injection drug users IDU are at high risk for viral infections, such as HIV, HCV, and hepatitis B virus (HBV), due to frequent injecting, needle/syringe and other drug preparation equipment sharing, high numbers of sexual partners, and exchange of sex for money or drugs. In San Francisco, street youth who inject:

  • are typically homeless runaways who often are involved in an illegal street economy, including prostitution, drug sales, theft, panhandling, pornography and selling stolen property
  • have high rates of unemployment, poor education, and mental illness
  • experience a large number of negative and traumatic events prior to leaving home
  • fear and mistrust authority and consequently avoid or delay contact with the public health system
  • are extremely vulnerable to multiple negative health outcomes due to the combination of youth, drugs, survival sex and disenfranchisement

“UFO is good people to talk to…you legitimately and honestly care about people.”

The UFO Study collects research data from a community of young injectors while delivering valuable medical and social services to this vulnerable population. Field staff exercise a harm reduction-based non-judgmental approach to data collection and service provision, and are deeply committed to serving the needs of a population that is largely stigmatized in other medical and social settings. The effect is a unique sense of ownership and pride among field staff and research participants. The longevity of its research projects and the exceptional competency of its field staff have enabled the UFO Study to build trust within San Francisco's IDU community. Young injectors are met by field staff with compassion, support, and resources, which in turn facilitates honesty and the acquisition of accurate data.


Currently, UFO holds a weekly viral hepatitis prevention and education group with dinner on Wednesdays from 4:45-5:30pm, to which all young adults with or at risk for HCV are welcome. Research activities begin at 5:30pm; youth and young adults are welcome to be screened and, if eligible, participate in paid research projects. Research participants receive pre- and post-test counseling for HCV, as well as other prevention, testing and care.

See details about the services we provide.

“You provide a special kind of care – social and medical”


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.


Project Staff

The UFO study staff includes researchers, outreach workers, interviewers and test counselors.

To contact UFO : 1-888-829-6884 (1-888-UC-YOUTH)

The UFO Study studies and projects are funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the UCSF Liver Center and Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI).