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HIV, Hepatitis C and You

A Guide for Coinfected People

December 2011

Hepatitis A & B

Although this booklet focuses on hepatitis C coinfection, it's not the only type of hepatitis that can be a danger for people living with HIV. Here's a quick look at two other forms of hepatitis to be aware of.

Hepatitis A

Hep A is a different virus from hep C. People usually get it by eating or drinking food that contains a microscopic amount of fecal matter (poop) that's infected with the hep A virus. Hep A is one of the big reasons that chefs, cooks, waiters and other people who serve food are told to wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom. You can also get hep A through anal sex (especially oral-anal sex) or through sharing unsterilized injection drug equipment.

Not everyone who is infected with hep A has symptoms, but for those who do, it's often a lot like having the flu, and diarrhea is common. Symptoms usually last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

There's no treatment for hep A; much like the common cold or most forms of the flu, your body will eventually wipe out the virus on its own. In rare cases, though, the virus can cause liver damage. If you have hep C, the risk of liver damage can be higher, which makes it even more important to protect yourself.

There is a widely available vaccine you can get to protect yourself from hep A. Ask your health care provider to hook you up!

Hepatitis B

Hep B is also a different virus from hep C. The virus gets passed from one person to another in much the same way HIV is transmitted, such as unprotected sex, sharing injection drug equipment, and mother-to-child transmission during birth or breastfeeding.

Hep B is pretty common, especially among people with HIV. More than 350 million people worldwide are believed to be living with hep B, and about 10% of people living with HIV are believed to have hep B as well.

Almost every adult who catches hep B clears the virus naturally -- in fact, they may never even know they were infected unless they get a blood test to see if they were once hep B positive. However, people with HIV may have a harder time clearing hep B.

This may especially be the case if the person isn't on HIV treatment, since that means HIV may be actively hurting their immune system.

If your hep B infection doesn't clear, you become "chronically infected," and you'll need to talk with your health care provider about your treatment options. Left untreated, hep B can cause the same sorts of problems that hep C can cause: liver damage and possibly liver cancer.

Just as with hep A, however (and unlike with hep C), a vaccine can protect you from hep B, and is recommended for just about everyone. If you haven't been vaccinated against hep B yet, be sure to talk to your health care provider.

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Copyright © 2011 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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