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HIV and Hepatitis C

Many people are co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C (hep C or HCV), which attacks the liver. HIV and hepatitis C co-infection is can be extra hard on your body, so get tested for both if you think you’re at risk from drug use or having sex with someone who uses drugs.

Testing for Hep C

Hepatitis C doesn’t always produce symptoms, but early signs of hep C can include ongoing fatigue, aches, night sweats, and feeling like you have the flu. If you have a history of injecting drugs (or have sex with someone who does), get tested. You could be infected with hep C for years before knowing it. Because hep C can be treated and eliminated from the body in some cases, the sooner you know, the better your options. It’s also good to know your hep C status if you are going to start HIV treatment.

Transmission of Hep C

Hep C can be transmitted when even a small amount of blood from an infected person comes in direct contact with the bloodstream of someone else. Frequent routes of transmission include:

  • sharing needles, cocaine straws or other drug equipment that might have traces of blood on them. You can reduce your risks through safer drug use.
  • sharing razors or toothbrushes
  • sharing tattooing equipment (including inks) that is not sterilized

Sexual transmission is less common, but if there is any slight tearing of vaginal or anal tissue, there could be a risk of infection. Open sores (like herpes sores) can also make you more vulnerable.

If you are pregnant, you can transmit hep C to your baby during pregnancy or childbirth. The infection rate will depend on your hep C viral load, how much contact the baby has with your blood and the use of birthing assistance measures during the birth. For example, forceps can increase the risk of infection. HIV and hep C co-infection may also increase the risk of infection to your baby.

Treating Hep C

Treating hep C really depends on your health. Treatment for HIV can be problematic if you have hepatitis C, as many HIV drugs are processed through the liver. Street drugs or alcohol can complicate treatment and be dangerous, so it’s vital that you are up front with your doctor if you are using alcohol or drugs.

More information is available at:
Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange
HIV and Hepatits.com

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