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HIV and Hepatitis C: Similarities and Differences

March 2009




Type of virus and how transmitted

Bloodborne. Also present in semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk

Bloodborne. Also may be present in semen and vaginal fluid

Whether sexual transmission occurs

Sexual transmission common

Sexual transmission less common, especially among heterosexual couples, but does occur among HIV-positive gay men

Risk of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT)

Risk of mother-to-child transmission can be dramatically reduced with use of antiretroviral therapy

Risk of MTCT of HCV is higher if you are HIV-positive. In the UK, women with coinfection are recommnded to have an elective C-section to lower the risk.

Risk from breastmilk

Breast feeding can transmit HIV

Risk of HCV transmission from breast feeding is considered very low (unless mother's nipples are cracked or bleeding)

Whether lifelong

Yes (at time of writing)

Not always chronic (can be cleared/ cured)

Risk of reinfection

Reinfection with HIV happens. In many cases it may not have serious implications unless the new virus is drug resistant (cases of reinfection with drug-resistant HIV have been reported, but no one is sure how often this happens). HIV reinfection is the subject of current research.

Reinfection with hepatitis C occurs, and being reinfected with a different genotype may make it more difficult to treat. For example, if someone with HCV genotype 2 is reinfected with HCV genotype 1. Clearing the virus with a natural immune response or with treatment doesn't protect you from reinfection in the future.

How infectious outside the body

HIV is a fragile virus. Dies quickly when outside of the human body

HCV is a tougher virus. Can live for days outside of the human body.

Is treatment always needed?

Treatment is not always necessary, but it is needed by the majority of people at some time. Less than 5% people still have not needed to start treatment 15 years after infection.

Treatment is not always necessary. Some people clear the virus naturallly and some people do not get symptoms even in chronic infection.

Speed of progression

People can live with HIV for many years without symptoms (average 5-8 without treatment).

People can live with HCV for many years without symptoms (average over 10-15 for people with coinfection).

Effect of treatment on viral load

Levels of HIV in the blood can be suppressed by treatment.

HCV can be virtually eradicated from the bloodstream if treatment is successful.

Duration of treatment

Treatment can be lifelong.

Treatment usually lasts for a year or less.

Impact of viral load on how fast the disease progressed

Viral load is linked to disease progression.

Viral load is linked to treatment response, but not disease severity or progression.

Choice of treatment

More than 20 drugs available, that specifically target the virus.

Currently, standard of care is combination therapy with pegylated interferon plus ribavirin, two drugs that do not specifically target the virus.

Research pipeline

Drugs from new classes and existing classes are currently in development.

Drugs from new and existing classes are currently in development.

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This article was provided by HIV i-Base. It is a part of the publication Hepatitis C for People Living With HIV. Visit HIV i-Base's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.