Today, approximately 25% of HIV-positive people in the US are also infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV). This is called HIV and hepatitis C co-infection. Infection with some form of viral hepatitis, whether hepatitis C virus or hepatitis B virus, is the most common co-infection in the people with HIV. Injection drug users have the greatest risk of developing a co-infection with hepatitis C. Co-infections may make a person more vulnerable to complications from HIV, hepatitis, or both.
People become infected with HCV through contact with the blood of an HCV-infected person, such as by sharing needles or other equipment during injection drug use. Hepatitis C virus can also be spread through unprotected sexual contact.
Hepatitis C infection causes inflammation of the liver. Untreated, it can lead to liver cancer and liver cirrhosis, a condition in which scar tissue replaces healthy tissue and interferes with the liver’s ability to function. Hepatitis C infection is the most common reason for liver transplantation in the US. Co-infection with both HIV and HCV can more than triple a person’s risk for developing liver disease and liver failure.
People can have hepatitis C infection for many years before developing symptoms, and many people with HCV infection don’t know they have it. Luckily, all that is needed to diagnose HCV is a simple blood test, which can be done by most health care providers.
PREVENTION AND PROTECTION
Although there is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis A and B, two other forms of viral hepatitis, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Fortunately, it is possible to decrease your risk of developing HCV.
To reduce your risk of contracting or spreading HCV, follow these guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Don’t share personal items that may have come into contact with the blood of someone infected with HCV, such as toothbrushes or razors.
- Don’t re-use or share needles. This is one of the most common ways the virus spreads.
- Use condoms and follow other safe sex practices. Although the risk of spreading the virus through sexual contact is believed to be low overall, the risk is greater for people who have HIV.
- If you get a tattoo, make sure the artist uses new, sterile needles and be sure the facility is licensed and clean.
- Get tested. Knowing your health status for both HIV and HCV makes it easier for doctors to determine the best treatment plan for you.
Chronic hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medications. Older treatments for HCV involved injections. Most current medications that are used to treat hepatitis C are pills. These treatments are easy for people to complete and have minimal side effects. The new medications are also very effective – most people who complete the course of treatment are cured of hepatitis C.
source: Healthy Living With HIV, CDC