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Hepatitis C & HIV

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Hepatitis C and HIV: Two separate viruses. Two seemingly separate problems. However, when put together, they can cause even more problems than when alone.

Viral Problems

A computer virus can fry your laptop or desktop. There's also more than one kind of computer virus that can do the same thing. And sometimes, one computer virus can make your computer more vulnerable, so it more likely another one is able to come in and cause a lot of damage to your computer.

This is no different in nature and your body. Your body, in some sense, is like that computer. It can be attacked by two different viruses in this case, both of which can damage your body and both of which can make the other one's potential problems even worse. Let's consider HIV and Hepatitis C.

HIV & Hepatitis C

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus attacks your body's immune system. Specifically it goes after white blood cells. These cells help protect you from infection and disease. And even more specifically, HIV likes to attack white blood cells called T cells. The destruction of these and other white blood cells by HIV can lead to a severely compromised immune system.

This is like a country without an army. It's defenseless and open to invasion. This is why people not treated for HIV can die from various diseases that wouldn't otherwise threaten a healthy person.

HIV is represented by the green spheres in this microscopic image while the white blood cell is a bluish color.
HIV

The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) attacks your liver. This attack leads to the inflammation of the liver. Owing to these two factors, the word hepatitis should now make sense since hepato- means liver and -itis means inflammation. The problem with HCV is that it can cause a chronic (long-term) infection. If that happens, then a person can die from cirrhosis, scarring of the liver, or even liver cancer.

A microscopic image of the hepatitis C virus.
Hepatitis C

How HIV and Hepatitis C Are Related

So now it's clear that both viruses can independently harm your body, but how are they related? Well, a fair amount of people who have HIV also have HCV. Again, both on their own can be a major problem. However, when both HIV and HCV are present, there's an even bigger problem. This is because people who have HIV will develop serious liver damage as a result of HCV faster than someone with HCV alone.

If that wasn't bad enough, infection with HCV can also impact how someone is treated for HIV and thus impact the course of their HIV related problems. This is because the drugs that treat HIV are dependent on a healthy functioning liver, and someone with HCV doesn't have a healthy liver. The liver needs to be healthy for HIV treatment for several reasons.

First, there needs to be a healthy liver to properly activate some drugs. Second, a healthy liver is needed to get rid of some drugs to ensure they aren't toxic once taken. Third, drugs can damage the liver and if the liver is already damaged due to HCV, then you're setting yourself up for potential trouble. So if the liver is hurt due to HCV, it becomes more difficult to manage HIV in a person.

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