HIV patients with viral hepatitis are three times more likely to have liver disease

On World AIDS Day, yesterday, the World Hepatitis Alliance called for increased recognition of viral hepatitis and HIV coinfections. Viral hepatitis is one of the leading causes of non-AIDS-related deaths among people living with HIV, yet often goes undiagnosed. Similar to HIV, the hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses are blood-borne, having similar transmission routes like sexual contact for hepatitis B and injection drug use and sexual contact for hepatitis C.

Blood sample with HIV positive

Viral hepatitis poses a serious health threat to people living with HIV. For many who are unaware or who have not been tested for hepatitis, they may experience the deadly effects of the virus without having any symptoms. Additionally viral hepatitis progresses faster in HIV patients, increasing the prevalence of liver disease among those with HIV/AIDS.

Colleen Price, a 45 year old survivor of hepatitis C and HIV, was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1997 and HIV in 2000. “It was not until 2004 that a specialist got through to me about the seriousness of combined hepatitis and HIV. The specialist said that if I did nothing for my HIV not to worry as I would likely die from hepatitis C far before my HIV.”

Today it is estimated that approximately 15% of people living with HIV are affected by hepatitis B and hepatitis C, resulting in a global burden of over 5 million.  With a large percentage of people living with HIV and viral hepatitis still often undiagnosed, it will be impossible to reach the WHO’s ‘Getting To Zero’ HIV strategy, without a huge scale-up in testing and treatment of both HIV and hepatitis.

Key measures need to be put in place by governments, healthcare professionals and civil society groups.

  • All persons living with HIV should be tested for hepatitis B and hepatitis C by their doctors
  • Treatment needs to be expanded broadly to include hard-to-reach and often-stigmatized populations such as injection drug users
  • Stigma needs to be removed which prevents people coming forward for testing
  • Infrastructure needs to be put into place and the price of diagnostics reduced to screen at-risk populations

‘On World AIDS Day we are highlighting the urgent need for governments, healthcare professionals and civil society to recognise the impact and global burden of coinfection between viral hepatitis and HIV, and to ensure adequate screening and treatment is available globally’, said Raquel Peck, CEO of the World Hepatitis Alliance.

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