Hepatitis C and HIV: Understanding Co-Infection

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  • The Relationship Between Hepatitis C and HIV

    The Relationship Between Hepatitis C and HIV

    Hepatitis C and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are two types of viruses that can each become life-threatening without treatment. A person can even have both viruses at once. If you have both types of viruses at the same time, you have a “co-infection.”

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25 percent of HIV patients also have hepatitis C. While hepatitis C can be problematic for anyone, you should be more aware of its dangers if you have HIV as well.

  • Understanding Hepatitis C

    Understanding Hepatitis C

    The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is just one form of hepatitis. HCV is most commonly contracted through the bloodstream. Injected needles, particularly with street drugs, are the most common cause of HCV, but unprotected sex is another possible cause.

    If you also have HIV, HCV is particularly dangerous. HIV weakens your immune system, which can result in higher levels of HCV in your blood.

  • What Is Co-Infection?

    What Is Co-Infection?

    Co-infection refers to having two viruses occur at once. A deficient immune system associated with HIV makes it easier to contract other types of viruses, such as hepatitis C.

    While this type of co-infection is common, it isn’t the only combination. Some patients, for example, may have HIV and hepatitis A or B. Co-infection can make viral treatments difficult because some medications can help one virus while making the other worse.

  • Testing Is Essential

    Testing Is Essential

    The problem with HCV is that its symptoms may not be noticeable until serious liver damage has already been done. Since hepatitis C is so prevalent among HIV patients, it’s a good idea to get regular tests. Your doctor will make recommendations on the frequency of such tests.

    If you suspect exposure to HCV, the virus may not show up in your blood for several months. All patients with HIV should consider an HCV-antibody test to assess the risk for contracting hepatitis C.

  • No Vaccines for HCV

    No Vaccines for HCV

    Hepatitis C is one of the most common types of liver infections in HIV. One of the reasons is because, unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine available for HCV.

    HCV is treated with drugs, such as ribavirin and interferon. These are primarily used in chronic cases of hepatitis to decrease your risk for liver disease.

  • When Treatment Worsens Co-Infection

    When Treatment Worsens Co-Infection

    The problem with HIV co-infection is that side effects of HCV medications may compromise your immune system even more. And, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) for HIV can increase your risk for contracting HCV.

    The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs reports that 40 percent of HAART users have hepatitis C. Before beginning treatment for HCV, it’s important that your doctor takes you off medications that may suppress your immunity. 

  • Risks and Prognosis

    Risks and Prognosis

    Liver disease (cirrhosis) and liver cancer are the biggest complications of hepatitis C. Due to lowered immunity in HIV, your risk may be greater. According to the CDC, most of the long-term risks develop over the course of 20 to 30 years. This is because patients with HIV are living longer thanks to advances in treatment, particularly HAART.

    Despite the statistics, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs reports that hepatitis C is the leading cause of death in HIV. Taking preventive measures can help prolong your life and also give you a better quality of life, too.

  • The Co-Infection Conundrum

    The Co-Infection Conundrum

    While treatments are available for HCV, the side effects can be detrimental for HIV patients. In fact, some HIV medications may lead to liver damage. It’s important to discuss with your doctor all of the risks and benefits of hepatitis treatments. The best way to prevent co-infection is to prevent hepatitis C and HIV. Preventive measures can include:

    • avoiding unprotected sex
    • treating and testing for sexually transmitted diseases
    • not sharing needles
    • using your own toothbrushes and shaving razors
    • avoiding drugs

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