Hepatitis C (HCV) and HIV are two chronic viral infections that affect millions of people in the United States.
HCV affects the liver while HIV targets the immune system. Both viruses weaken these body systems over time. The viruses can be contracted and transmitted in similar ways, too, so you can have both types of infection at the same time.
Newly developed treatments can cure HCV. Researchers are still working on a cure for HIV, but treatments can slow the infectio
It’s crucial to seek treatment for both infections to avoid causing severe damage to your body or transmitting them to someone else. Treatment for both conditions can improve your overall health and increase your quality of life.
Having HCV and HIV at the same time is called a coinfection. A decade ago, the
The link between the two viruses increases substantially (up to 62% to 80%) among people with HCV and HIV who use injection drugs, primarily due to sharing needles.
Coinfections of HCV and HIV may increase the rate at which the viruses affect your body, so treating both is vital to your health.
Untreated HCV with HIV can harm your liver more quickly because HIV can diminish your immune system. You may develop cirrhosis or another liver condition at a younger age if you have both viruses and do not receive HCV treatment.
The biggest similarity between these viruses is that HCV and HIV can be transmitted in similar ways:
- Through blood: Sharing equipment used to prepare or inject drugs is one main way HCV and HIV are transmitted. There’s also a risk of transmitting either virus through hygiene equipment, like used razors or unsterile needles for tattooing or piercing. It’s very uncommon to contract HIV or HCV through blood transfusions because it is tested for these viruses before use.
- Through anal or vaginal intercourse: This is especially the case if no barrier method, like condoms, is used. It is easier to transmit HIV this way, but it’s still possible to contract HCV through sex without a barrier method as well, particularly anal intercourse.
HCV infections are on the rise in the last decade in the United States in part due to the opioid epidemic.
The rate of HCV infection rose by 151% from 2010 to 2013, reports the American Psychological Association. This is because many people who take opioids do so with injectable needles or other equipment that may come in contact with someone else’s blood. These items may contain traces of HCV and HIV.
Symptoms can vary widely for HCV and HIV. You may not notice any symptoms for a long time after contracting either virus.
While you may not experience noticeable physical symptoms, the viruses can damage your body internally over time.
There are three general stages of HIV: acute, chronic, and late stage, or AIDS. Your symptoms may change based on how long you’ve had the virus in your body. You may experience:
- no symptoms
- flu-like symptoms, including:
- aching muscles
- sore throat
- inflamed lymph nodes
- ulcers in the mouth
If you use injectable drugs or often have sex with multiple partners without using a barrier method, experts recommend getting tested for HIV frequently. Frequent screening can provide an early diagnosis and treatment, which improve your outlook and prevent transmission to others.
The most accurate way to get tested is by talking with a doctor. While rapid tests, such as those that use saliva, are available over the counter, a diagnosis must be confirmed by a healthcare professional. Free or low cost services are widely available in many places.
Hepatitis C (HCV)
Like HIV, you can only confirm an HCV diagnosis with a test from a doctor. Symptoms from HCV may include:
- no symptoms
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Your body may fight off an HCV infection on its own during the acute stage of HCV. This is the first 6 months of the infection. However, the virus remains in many people after that stage. Doctors classify long lasting HCV as chronic.
Treatment for both HIV and HCV is critical for your health. These treatments can cure or control the viruses to reduce the effects they have on your body.
HCV can be cured with newly developed treatments. HIV can be treated to greatly reduce the amount of detectable virus in your body. You can get treatment for both conditions at the same time.
If you have both HIV and HCV:
- get treatment for both conditions
- avoid alcohol consumption, which can lead to further liver damage
- get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
- talk with a doctor about medications or supplements you currently take, as these can damage your liver
Treatment for HIV is crucial to prevent it from progressing. You can treat HIV with antiretroviral therapy. It will reduce your HIV viral load, which can make the virus undetectable in your body.
Most people who take antiretroviral drugs have their viral load suppressed to such a point that they
You must take the medication every day as your doctor prescribes to avoid the virus multiplying or becoming resistant to treatment. When you do not take the medication as prescribed, the virus can become detectable again.
Recently developed treatment options for HCV can now cure the condition. These are called direct-acting antiviral treatments. You will take these treatments by mouth for a few months as directed by your doctor.
According to the CDC,
HIV and HCV treatment
Your doctor will consider your HIV and HCV treatment together if you have both viruses. Your doctor will choose an antiretroviral therapy that does not interfere with HCV treatment.
There are a few ways you can get tested for HIV and HCV:
- talk with a doctor
- visit a local clinic in your community that offers testing
- find a testing location online, like from the CDC
The CDC hopes to diagnose all HCV infections by recommending that the following people get tested:
- people with HIV
- adults ages 18 and over (at least once)
- pregnant people
- people who use injectable drugs
You will need to work with a doctor if your test results are positive for HIV or HCV. This may include a primary care doctor or a specialist. You may add other professionals to your healthcare team as you navigate the treatment process for HIV and HCV.
Living with HIV and HCV
You may be overwhelmed to learn you have one or both of these viral infections. A doctor can help guide you through the treatment process. They can also offer advice on how to navigate the emotional aspects of the diagnosis.
Other ways you can care for yourself following these diagnoses include:
- stopping all drug and alcohol use
- taking care of your body with nutritious food, exercise, and plenty of sleep
- using barrier methods during sex
- seeking mental health support
Click here to learn more about support groups and other mental health support for HIV-positive people.
HIV and HCV are very different viruses, but they’re frequently transmitted in similar ways. You may contract them from the same source if you come in contact with these viruses from someone’s blood.
HIV attacks your immune system and can progress to a fatal stage if it’s not treated. HCV damages your liver over time and may lead to cirrhosis, liver disease, or liver cancer. It’s possible to have both HIV and HCV.
It’s important to get treatment for both HIV and HCV so you can prevent the infections from damaging your body. While only HCV is curable, HIV is highly treatable and manageable, and medications can prevent it from progressing and getting worse.
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