Hepatitis C virus is also known as HCV. HCV is a liver disease that, over time, can lead to severe scar development (fibrosis and cirrhosis).
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. Without treatment, HIV can progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
HCV/HIV coinfection means that a person has both viruses at the same time. For every 100 people with HIV, approximately 21 of them also have HCV. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021)
HCV is spread through blood-to-blood contact. This means that if someone else’s blood enters your body (even in a small amount), you can be infected if that person is infected. Remember: HCV often has no symptoms, so people may have the infection but not know it. For more information about risks for HCV, testing, and treatment, visit https://liverfoundation.org/liver-diseases/viral-hepatitis/hepatitis-c/.
HIV, like HCV, can spread through blood contact. The difference is that HIV can also spread from person to person through the following body fluids:
For these fluids to infect someone with HIV, they must enter the body through the bloodstream (such as via injection), or through mucus membranes or damaged body tissues. To learn more about HIV infection, including transmission risks, visit https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/transmission.html.
Most people with HCV do not have symptoms, sometimes for years. People with HIV often do develop symptoms within a month of being infected.
If symptoms occur with HCV, they can include:
The only way to know for sure if you have HCV and/or HIV is to get tested. Blood tests will determine if you have HCV, HIV, or both.
Having HCV alone can cause serious liver damage over time. Damage can include liver inflammation (swelling), early scar formation (fibrosis), and advanced scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). People with long-term (chronic) HCV are at risk for developing liver cancer.
If someone has HIV and HCV, the HIV may cause the HCV to progress at a faster rate than if the person had only HCV. We do not yet know if having HCV can cause HIV to advance at a faster rate.
HCV is now a curable disease. HIV does not have a cure, but with proper treatment and management, it is possible to prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS.
People with HCV/HIV coinfection can be treated for both diseases at the same time. Consideration will be given to prescribing a treatment plan with as few drug interactions as possible so that patients will experience the most positive results possible.
HCV is treated with drugs called Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs). These DAAs prevent the HCV virus from multiplying in the body. Most people with HCV can take DAAs. There are a few different DAAs being used to treat HCV. They are in pill form, and treatment is usually completed within three months. Your doctor will be able to provide information about which specific DAA is best for you.
HIV is treated using antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART consists of a combination of medicines which must be taken every day. These medicines keep people with HIV healthier for longer periods of time, can reduce HIV transmission,
Doctors and their patients will discuss exactly how to take the HCV and HIV medications. Healthcare providers will also review any possible drug interactions, side effects and ways to manage side effects, and how often patients should be seen while undergoing treatment. Blood tests are taken throughout treatment to measure viral load (amount of virus) present in the body.
For people with HCV, doctors will discuss tests that may be required to check the condition of their livers (ultrasound, MRI, CT scans) and how often those tests are needed.
If cirrhosis is present, talk to your healthcare provider about being screened for liver cancer at least twice a year.
Some important ways to help your body when you have a chronic illness include: