for Veterans and the Public
HIV and hepatitis C coinfection: Entire Lesson
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 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.
- 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 with hepatitis C. Hepatitis C infection may occur through unprotected sex. Overall, more than one third of all Americans with HIV have hepatitis C, too. Anyone known to have one of these viral infections will be checked for coinfection with the other virus.
How will coinfection affect my treatments?
With the current generation of hepatitis C drugs, the chance of curing hepatitis C is very high. Your providers are likely to prescribe a hepatitis C regimen that is free from drug interactions with your HIV regimen. Working closely with your medical providers will give you the best chance for successful treatment.
Can I give HIV or hepatitis C to someone else?
HIV is spread by infected blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. There are a number of ways of keeping sex partners from getting HIV -- these include taking HIV medications to keep your HIV viral load suppressed, and using condoms for sex.
Hepatitis C is spread mainly by the blood and rarely by sex. If you have sex, the best thing to do to prevent both infections is to 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.
Sharing needles or works to inject drugs is one of the easiest ways to spread both HIV and hepatitis C. By sharing needles or works, you can spread both of these viruses at the same time.
The best thing to do, especially if you have HIV or hepatitis C, is not use drugs. Talk to your provider about getting help to stop.
If you use drugs, make sure that your needles and works are clean (or brand new) every time and never share them with anyone else. Sharing equipment used to snort or smoke drugs such as cocaine also may spread hepatitis C, and possibly HIV.
What can I do about coinfection?
There is no cure for HIV, but it usually can be controlled. New medications are now available to cure hepatitis C in just 8-12 weeks.
Medications for both diseases keep getting better. Talk with your provider about treatments for HIV and hepatitis C. Educate yourself about your treatment choices as much as you can.
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 known "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 vaccinations (or shots) to protect you from 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.
Don't have condomless (unprotected) sex.
Using condoms correctly and consistently (every time) is an excellent and very effective way to keep other people from getting HIV or hepatitis C through sex. If you are coinfected and you have sex, the best thing to do is to always use a condom, dental dam, or other latex barrier and avoid "rough sex" or other activities that might cause bleeding.
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.
HIV and hepatitis C coinfection resources
- VA National Viral Hepatitis Website
Information on hepatitis C for health care providers and patients from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- CDC Viral Hepatitis Website
Information on all types of viral hepatitis from the National Center for Infectious Diseases of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Just Diagnosed Resources
- Questions to Ask Your Provider about Your HIV Diagnosis
A list of questions to print out and bring to your medical appointment.
- Just Diagnosed with HIV?
The Body's starting place for people newly diagnosed with HIV. Articles on understanding HIV, first steps to treatment, telling others.
- The CDC National HIV Hotline, including its Spanish Service and TTY Service:
1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), 8 am - 8 pm ET, Monday through Friday.
- More Information:
- Find websites on more specific topics, such as opportunistic infections, travel health, and more.