Co-infection is a medical term used to describe two or more infections in the body at the same time. A person infected with HIV and Hepatitis is said to have Hepatitis/HIV co infection.
Hepatitis describes the inflammation of the liver, which can be as a result of viral infection or exposure of the liver to harmful substances such as alcohol. Some types of hepatitis do not cause permanent damage to the liver; other types may persist for years and cause scarring of the liver (referred to as Cirrhosis). A more severe case can lead to liver failure or liver cancer; these types are known as chronic hepatitis. This discussion shall be limited to Hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV)
Hepatitis B (HBV): It can be found in blood and body fluids, like semen and vaginal fluid. It can therefore be spread through unprotected sex, sharing needles for injecting drug users and from an infected pregnant woman to her baby. Most infected people are able to recover within months, however a small percentage develop a long-term infection (chronic Hepatitis B) – which can cause cirrhosis, and liver cancer in some people. Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccination and chronic hepatitis B is treatable with antiviral medicine.
Hepatitis C (HCV): The liver is the major organ affected by the virus. It can be found mostly in blood and to a lesser extent in saliva, semen and vaginal fluid of an infected person. It is usually transmitted through blood to blood contact as it is particularly concentrated in the blood. There are no noticeable symptoms (asymptomatic); the symptoms are mistaken for the flu. About 1 in 4 people will fight off the infection; the remaining will have the virus in their body for many years. It can cause cirrhosis and liver failure in some people. There is currently no vaccination for Hepatitis C.
HBV and HCV are common among people at risk or living with HIV. These forms of viral hepatitis can be gotten the same way as HIV (unprotected sex, injecting drug use). HIV infected individuals are often infected with HCV than HBV. Viral hepatitis progresses faster and causes more liver related health problems among people living with HIV than among those who are HIV negative. The leading cause of Non-AIDS related deaths among HIV infected population is liver diseases related to HBV and HCV.
HIV/HCV co infection is increasingly recognized as a growing public health problem. As improve HIV treatment has reduced mortality due to opportunistic illnesses (OIs), liver failure – often related to chronic viral hepatitis has become a major cause of hospitalization and death of people living with HIV and AIDS because the presence of hepatitis accelerates the progression of hepatitis C (HCV)
Can I give HIV or Hepatitis to someone else?
Through sex: HIV is spread by infected blood, semen and vaginal fluids. Practicing safer sex is the best way to keep other people from getting HIV. Hepatitis C is spread mainly by the blood and rarely through sex. But you can still give hepatitis C to someone you have sex with if you are not careful.
If you have sex, the best thing to do is to practice safer sex at all times.
Sharing drugs: sharing needles to inject drugs is one of the easiest ways to spread HCV and HIV. It is possible to spread both viruses at the same time. The best thing to do especially if you have hepatitis C or HIV is talk to your doctor. If you use drugs, make sure your needles are clean (or brand new) every time and never share them with anyone else. Snorting drugs like cocaine also may spread hepatitis.
What can I do about co infection?
There is no cure for HIV, but it often can be controlled. Chronic Hepatitis C can be treated. This is like a cure, but in rare cases the virus still causes problems later.
Medications for both diseases keep getting better.