Hepatitis C and HIV: Risk, symptoms, prevention, and treatment

In this article, we discuss the relationship between hepatitis C and HIV. We also cover symptoms, prevention, and treatment for hepatitis C.

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C results from infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and causes inflammation of the liver.

Hepatitis C can occur in two forms:

  • Acute. This form of the disease is a short-term infection that usually develops within six months after contracting the virus. In most people, acute hepatitis C usually progresses to the chronic form.
  • Chronic. Around 70-85 percent of people with a HCV infection develop chronic hepatitis C. If left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can lead to liver cirrhosis, hepatic fibrosis, or hepatocellular carcinoma.

What is the link between HCV and HIV?

Both HCV and HIV are bloodborne viruses. Using injected drugs is a significant risk factor for both viral infections. Although sexual transmission of HCV is less common than HIV, it can happen if there is direct exposure to blood containing HCV.

People living with HIV may consider having regular tests for hepatitis C. Often, hepatitis C does not lead to symptoms until the virus has caused serious liver damage. The disease is difficult to recognize in the acute phase, which is why testing is important.

Ways to prevent hepatitis C include:

  • not sharing needles
  • not sharing personal hygiene items, such as toothbrushes and shaving razors
  • only using qualified and reputable practitioners for tattoos and piercings
  • using condoms during sex

Treatment of hepatitis C

Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. Fortunately, both acute and chronic hepatitis C infections are curable.

Current hepatitis C treatments involve taking two or more medications known as direct antiviral agents, or DAAs. This combination of medications prevents HCV from replicating until the virus is no longer present in the body. Treatment usually takes 6 to 24 weeks but can take longer.

However, people who have both HIV and HCV need individualized treatments because the medications used to treat HCV infections can interact with HIV treatments.

A doctor will recommend a treatment plan based on the individual’s:

  • hepatitis C genotype
  • amount and extent of liver damage
  • current medications


People who have HIV are at higher risk of getting hepatitis C than those without HIV. A person can contract hepatitis C through direct contact with blood that contains HCV.

Risk factors for hepatitis C include sharing needles or personal hygiene items, such as razors and toothbrushes. There is also a low risk of contracting HCV through sex without a condom.

It can often take years for symptoms of hepatitis C to develop, so regular testing allows for earlier detection and treatment. Hepatitis C is curable, but treatment is more complex in people living with HIV because the medications can interact with HIV treatment.

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