You can get some forms of viral hepatitis the same way you get HIV—through unprotected sexual contact and injection drug use. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are common forms of hepatitis among people who are at risk for, or living with, HIV/AIDS. When someone is infected with both HIV and hepatitis B or C, we say that they are coinfected.
Hepatitis B and HIV Coinfection
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B Virus (HBV). HBV is the world’s leading cause of chronic liver disease. It is typically transmitted through sexual intercourse, injection drug use, and from mother to baby during pregnancy. You can have HBV without having any symptoms, and sometimes it will clear up naturally without progressing to a chronic infection. People who have chronic HBV infection, however, can develop hepatitis or even liver cancer.
There is a vaccine that will protect you from HBV. The CDC recommends universal HBV vaccination of susceptible patients with HIV/AIDS.
Treatment for HBV infection involves using medications similar to those that treat HIV. HBV treatment is complex—if you have HBV, a properly trained healthcare provider will need to monitor your treatment closely.
If you are coinfected with HIV and HBV, you have a higher risk for developing chronic Hepatitis B infection. In addition, HIV infection can increase the amount of HBV virus that is circulated in your body. For these reasons, if you have HIV/HBV coinfection, you should be evaluated for liver disease and talk with your healthcare provider about treatment options.
Hepatitis C and HIV Coinfection
Hepatitis C (HCV) is one of the most common coinfections associated with HIV. According to CDC, about 25% of HIV-infected persons in the United States are also infected with HCV.
If you have HCV, you may not have any symptoms. In order to diagnose HCV, you will need to have tests to check the amount of HCV in your blood. In addition, you may need to have imaging studies and a liver biopsy to determine whether you have liver damage and how serious it is.
HIV infection can increase the amount of HCV virus that is circulated in your body, so if you are coinfected, you will be at higher risk for progressing to liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. You will also have an increased risk of hepatotoxicity, or general liver damage, which can be caused by your HIV medications.
There is no vaccine for HCV, but treatment is available. Not everyone is a good candidate for this treatment, so you will need to talk with your healthcare provider to find out whether you will benefit. HCV treatment has significant side effects, so it’s important to learn about them before you consent to therapy.
If you have HIV/HCV coinfection, you should also ask your healthcare provider if you need to be immunized against Hepatitis A (which causes acute, but not chronic, infection) and hepatitis B to prevent further infections and liver damage.