The HIV and Hepatitis C Connection

Written on 03/26/2024
Howard County Health Department, Nursing Division

By the Howard County Health Department, Nursing Division

HIV and Hepatitis C have two things in common: both are caused by a RNA virus and both can be transmitted by blood. HIV weakens the immune system, making it easier to contract additional infections. Co-infection is the term used when a person is diagnosed with two or more infections.

If a person is HIV positive, the most common co-infection is Hepatitis C (HCV), which is considered an opportunistic illness. HCV is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States. HIV and HCV are transmitted multiple ways:

* Sharing syringes, needles, and injection drug paraphernalia.

* Tattoos and body piercings. These should always be done by a professional artist.

* Mother-to-baby. HCV transmission is possible during pregnancy, although is less likely than HIV.

* Accidental needle sticks in the healthcare profession have contributed to HCV transmission.

* Unprotected sexual activity.

If you are diagnosed with HIV, you should be tested for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C as well. There are vaccines for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B; however, a vaccine for Hepatitis C is not available at this time.

When there is co-infection with HIV and HCV, treatment options must be closely monitored as the body is trying to fight two infections at the same time. Treatment decisions made by a medical provider will be based on HIV viral load, white blood cell count, and the stage of HCV infection. The liver will be closely monitored to avoid liver toxicity since the liver metabolizes medications.

Because the possibility of drug-drug interactions exists, patients need to disclose all medications they are taking to their medical provider, including herbal supplements, additional prescribed drugs, and over-the-counter medications. Fortunately for those with HCV/HIV co-infection, standard treatment options for HCV infection have high cure rates.

The Howard County Health Department and the Indiana Department of Health provide free HCV testing at selected sites for individuals who meet specific guidelines for testing. Testing for HCV is a rapid HCV antibody test; it is simple and accurate. A blood sample is collected via a finger stick and results are known within 30 minutes.

For questions regarding services provided by the Public Health Nursing Service of the Howard County Health Department, please call (765) 456-2408, Option One for Nursing Office.