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Hepatitis C (HCV) and HIV/AIDS

August 2013

Table of Contents

What Is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation, or swelling, of the liver. Alcohol, drugs (including street drugs, over-the-counter medications, and prescription medications), poisons, and several viruses can all cause hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is the term used for any virus that causes inflammation of the liver.

Signs of hepatitis include:

What Is Hepatitis C?


Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). In 2012, The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that there were 3.2 million Americans living with chronic (long-lasting) HCV. The World Health Organization estimates that 170 million people are chronically infected with HCV worldwide, including 12 million in India and five to ten million in Europe.

Approximately half of HIV-negative people clear HCV from their bodies without medical treatment within the first six months of becoming infected. For those living with HIV (HIV+), about one in five people will get rid of the virus without treatment. The majority of people do not clear HCV and go on to develop chronic infection.

Chronic HCV may not cause any symptoms for ten years or more. However, even without symptoms, it can cause serious liver damage leading to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, and death. In fact, HCV is one of the most common causes of liver disease and viral hepatitis is the number one reason for liver transplants in America.

How Is HCV Spread?

HCV is spread in the following ways:

Prevention of HCV

Unfortunately there is still no vaccine to prevent you from being infected with HCV. However, there are vaccines for two other types of hepatitis: A and B. It is strongly recommended that people with HCV get hepatitis A and B vaccinations as early as possible. For more information on hepatitis A and hepatitis B, see our info sheets.

HCV is not commonly passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) occurs in about five out of every hundred cases. Studies have found that the risk for MTCT of HCV is three to four times higher in women with HIV. There is currently no known treatment that will prevent the transmission of HCV from mother to child.

The best way to prevent HCV infection is to avoid being exposed to blood that is infected with HCV. Do not share equipment to use drugs and make sure tattoo artists use sterile needles and inkwells. Practicing safer sex is also a good idea; you can find tips to protect yourself in our Safer Sex info sheet.

Testing for HCV

Most people who are infected with HCV do not know it because they have no symptoms. Early signs of HCV can seem like the flu and often go unnoticed. The only way to know for sure if you have HCV is to get a blood test for it.

The CDC recently recommended that everyone born during 1945 through 1965 (the 'baby boomers') get a one-time blood test for HCV. This new recommendation has been released for a number of reasons, including improvements in treatment for hepatitis C and high rates of HCV infection among baby boomers.

Tests for HCV include:

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