HEP C Co-infection
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is an infectious blood-borne-virus (BBV) that can affect the liver when left undiagnosed and untreated. HCV may eventually cause liver fibrosis (hardening) and more rarely liver cancer (1% of people).
Hepatitis C is a virus that lives in the blood, and is transmitted (passed on from one person to the next) when infected blood from one person gets into someone else’s blood stream. Even invisible (microscopic) amounts of blood can transmit hep C.
- Sharing or reusing other people’s needles and syringes
- Sharing or reusing other people’s drug injecting equipment
- Tattooing, body piercing and other beauty procedures
- Medical care in developing countries
- Sharing of drug snorting equipment
- Sexual activity – condoms not used during anal sex, sharing unwashed sex toys, group sex and fisting (where there may be abrasions, tears, cuts, wounds or sores that may not be easily seen increasing blood to blood exposure of HCV).
Hepatitis C Treatments & HIV:
As aforementioned, HCV can result in liver-related health problems and these problems can be exacerbated by HIV coinfection. HCV and HIV coinfection can increase HIV viral load and can make HIV outcomes worse.
New highly effective pill-based treatments for HCV have now become available on the PBS since 01 March 2016. This is an exciting new medical breakthrough! The new treatments can cure HCV in up to 90% of people with HIV/HCV coinfection, for most (geno)types of HCV, by taking 1 or 2 HCV pills daily. These new treatments are called “Direct Acting Antivirals” (DAAs), and their side effects are very low. The old HCV treatments of interferon (injectable) are rarely used, and certainly will no longer will be used for 6 – 12 months (as was the previous HCV treatment protocol). The new Hepatitis C treatments now offer the chance for HIV-positive people to clear the HCV, in up to 90% of cases using the new DAAs for up to 12 weeks.
Some people can naturally clear the Hepatitis C virus early (soon after infection) without taking any treatment (20% of people); but if you have HIV as well approximately 15% of people with HIV/HCV will clear the virus early without any treatment. If you have ‘chronic’ (longer term) HCV infection then you have not cleared the virus naturally, and so treatment will be required as advised by your doctor.
If you are considering HCV treatment have a discussion with GP, HIV Physician, Liver or Infectious Diseases Specialist.
It is important to note that these new HCV treatments are NOT a vaccine, and therefore do no prevent you from getting Hepatitis C – they are a treatment for an existing HCV infection in order to potentially treat HCV. If you are successful in clearing HCV it’s important to know you can be re-infected with HCV again a second time around.
Treating Hepatitis C Resources
The New Deal is a new website for gay men, particularly those living with HIV, about the sexual transmission of hepatitis C and how to prevent it. The website includes info about testing, treatment and HIV/hepatitis C coinfection.
For updated information about Treating Hepatitis C, please see the following links:
- Queensland Positive People – article on the New Hepatitis C treatments for people with HIV/HCV coinfection: https://www.qpp.org.au/latest/the-end-to-hepatitis-c
- Hepatitis Queensland – have a range of resources about Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis B (HBV), and Hepatitis C (HCV), including updated information about treatments. Call 1800 HEP ABC to find out more.
- HIV and Hepatitis – an information website about HIV & HCV.
- ASHM – The Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) contains patient and clinic information for the management of HIV and Hepatitis C co-infection.
If you have any questions about Hep C co-infection, please call QPP’s Health Education Officer toll-free from a QLD land-line on 1800 636 241, or use the contact form provided or call (07) 3013 5555 (nationally).