for Veterans and the Public
HIV-Hepatitis C Coinfection: Entire Lesson - Hepatitis C for Patients
What is HIV coinfection?
Coinfection is a medical term meaning that you have two or more infections in your body at the same time. If you are living with both HIV and hepatitis C, then you have HIV and hepatitis C coinfection. These two illnesses are very different, so it is important that you learn about both of them.
- HIV stands for the human immunodeficiency virus. The virus attacks the body's immune system and, over time, can lead to AIDS.
- Hepatitis C is a virus that can damage your liver slowly over time.
Why is HIV-hepatitis C coinfection an issue?
Many people who are living with HIV also have been exposed to other infections, such as hepatitis C. Over half of people who acquire HIV through injecting drugs also acquire hepatitis C. Overall, more than one third of all Americans living with HIV have hepatitis C, too. Hence, HIV-hepatitis C coinfection is common.
Having both viruses also makes it a little harder to deal with either one. There are specific medical issues that are unique to coinfected patients. Anyone known to have one of these viral infections will be checked for coinfection with the other virus.
What do coinfected people need to be concerned about?
Providers and patients always should try to bear in mind that there are two infections to deal with. HIV/HCV coinfections can be effectively treated in many people, but treatment regimens can be complex due to drug-drug interaction.
How can HIV affect me?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It is spread mainly through blood and sexual contact. You can have HIV and feel healthy. Over many years, however, the virus can wear down your body's immune system, making it hard for your body to fight off dangerous infections. Having HIV also can increase your risk of getting certain cancers.
Even though there is no cure for HIV infection, there are many medications that can help people with HIV live longer and healthier lives.
You will want to learn much more about HIV, so that you can do everything possible to stay healthy. You also will need to learn how to avoid giving HIV to others. You can find information on the VA HIV website.
How can hepatitis C affect me?
Hepatitis C is a disease of your liver. It is caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus. The virus is spread mainly through contact with infected blood.
Many people don't know that they have hepatitis C, because the symptoms of the infection often are very mild. Some people with hepatitis C feel tired or have an upset stomach. Others may not have any symptoms at all, but even so, hepatitis C can lead to serious illness such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. Thankfully, new medications are now available to cure hepatitis C in about 8-12 weeks.
Will having hepatitis C affect my HIV treatments?
Will having HIV affect my hepatitis C treatment?
No. But your healthcare provider may have to modify your antiretroviral regimen to make sure there is minimal interaction with the hepatitis C drugs.
Can I give HIV or hepatitis C to someone else through sex?
HIV is spread by infected blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. Practicing safe sex is the best way to keep other people from getting HIV.
Hepatitis C is spread mainly by the blood and rarely by sex.
If you have sex, the best thing to do is practice safer sex all the time. To do so, always use a condom, dental dam, or other latex barrier and avoid "rough sex" or other activities that might cause bleeding. For more information, see tips for using condoms and dental dams on the VA HIV website.
Can I give HIV or hepatitis C to someone by using drugs with them?
Sharing needles or works to inject drugs is one of the easiest ways to spread hepatitis C and HIV. By sharing needles or works, you even can spread both of these viruses at the same time.
The best thing to do, especially if you have hepatitis C or HIV, is not use drugs. Talk to your provider about getting help to stop.
If you use drugs, make sure that your needle and works are clean (or brand new) every time and never share them with anyone else. Snorting drugs such as cocaine also may spread hepatitis C, and possibly HIV.
Is there a cure for HIV or hepatitis C?
There is no cure for HIV, but it often can be controlled. Newly approved treatments for hepatitis C infection are shorter, have fewer side effects, and now can cure the disease in most people. Keep in mind, prior hepatitis C infection does not induce an effective immune response and people can get infected with a different strain of hepatitis C after they have cleared the initial infection.
How can I slow down my HIV and hepatitis C infections?
Having only HIV or hepatitis C is difficult enough. Finding out that you have both at the same time might seem overwhelming. The best way to keep your coinfection from becoming a serious health problem is to keep yourself and your liver healthy by following these guidelines:
Do not drink alcohol.
Alcohol weakens your immune system and damages your liver even when you are healthy. Drinking alcohol heavily when you have HIV and hepatitis C makes the damage much worse. Remember, there is no "safe" amount of alcohol you can drink when you have HIV and hepatitis C. It doesn't help to switch from "hard" liquor to beer, cider, or wine. If you need help to stop drinking alcohol, talk to your provider.
Get vaccinated against other hepatitis viruses.
Having hepatitis C does not mean that you can't get other kinds of hepatitis. Talk to your provider about getting vaccinations (or shots) to protect you from getting hepatitis A and B.
Avoid taking medicines, supplements or natural or herbal remedies that might cause more damage to your liver.
Even ordinary pain relievers in high doses can cause liver problems in some people. Check with your provider before you take any natural or herbal remedy, supplement, prescription, or nonprescription medicine. And, make sure your provider knows all the medicines you are taking for HIV and hepatitis C.
Don't use illegal drugs.
Remember that these drugs can make your illness worse. Talk with your provider if you can't stop taking drugs.
Care for your body.
Eat healthy food, drink plenty of water, and get restful sleep. Try to exercise every day.
Ask your provider where you can get support in your area. If you already get services from an HIV organization, ask about support groups for people who have HIV and hepatitis C.
HIV and hepatitis C are two of the most important medical issues today. Try to educate yourself about them. Ask your provider if you need help making sense of anything you hear on the news or read online.
Follow your provider's advice.
Follow all instructions you get from your provider. Try to keep all of your appointments. Call your provider immediately if you have any problems.