for Veterans and the Public
HIV and hepatitis C coinfection
Coinfection is a medical term meaning that you have two or more infections in your body at the same time. If you have 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 have HIV also have been exposed to other infections, such as hepatitis C. Over half of people who become HIV infected through injecting drugs also become infected with hepatitis C. Hepatitis C infection also can occur through unprotected sex. Overall, more than one third of all Americans infected with HIV have hepatitis C, too. So 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.
What do coinfected people need to be concerned about?
Doctors and patients always should try to bear in mind that there are two infections to deal with. Hepatitis C can mean that a person's liver is more sensitive to the effects of HIV medications. Likewise, if coinfected persons are taking hepatitis C medications (particularly if they are taking interferon shots or ribavirin pills), their doctors need to be extra careful in monitoring them, because their bodies are more sensitive to the effects of these medications. Being coinfected is not a terrible situation, but it requires more attention.