HIV and Hepatitis C

How is HIV different now? Is it still a death sentence?

In some ways, HIV has not changed in many years; it is still a viral infection that is primarily transmitted from one person to another through blood, open wounds, or via sexual fluids, and it is still an illness that causes a lowered immune system.

However, many people think of HIV as a death sentence because of the initial information provided during the 1980s. At that time, little was known about HIV and there were no real treatments available, which led to many deaths. Since the 1980s, medical research has come a long way. Now, it is possible for a doctor to understand a great deal about their patient’s HIV experience, including being able to plan ahead and proactively treat the virus. Now there are many medication options, as well as protocols for drug combinations in order to best prevent future damage, as well as to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

While there is still no cure for HIV, many people who are HIV+ are able to lead long and happy lives, thanks to medical interventions.

I have HIV, does this mean I will get Hepatitis C? I have Hepatitis C, does this mean I will get HIV?

Having HIV does not guarantee you will be exposed to hepatitis C, nor does having hepatitis C guarantee you will be exposed to HIV. However, if you became infected via a needle or through contact with contaminated blood, you may have been exposed to both infections.

It is important to understand that having one infection lowers your immune system, as the body is focused on fighting the infection as well as dealing with any side effects that may come with the treatment plan for that infection. This makes your body more susceptible to many germs and viruses that can lead to illness.

It is important to keep this in mind when engaging in behavior that may put you in contact with contaminated blood, such as using IV drugs, getting a tattoo in an unlicensed facility, or engaging in any sexual or professional actions which may expose you to someone else’s blood.

What if I don’t know whether I have HIV or Hepatitis C?

If you are uncertain about your status for either of these infections, you have numerous options. If you have a doctor whom you trust, you can speak with them about your concerns, and they will help you to decide whether you should be tested, as well as providing the tests to you.

If you do not currently have a doctor, most cities have clinics where anyone can go to be tested for various illnesses, including hepatitis C and HIV. Some cities even have options within local pharmacies. You can contact your local drugstore or pharmacy to ask whether they offer such tests or whether they can direct you to the closest location that does.

If you are concerned about the costs involved in finding out your status, in some cities, there are free clinics or clinics that provide services on a sliding-fee scale. This means that you may be required to show proof of income or talk with someone about your financial situation, however sharing this information may allow you connections to healthcare services you might not otherwise be able to access.

An alternative option to visiting a medical office or clinic is a home test. There are currently home tests available at many pharmacies for both HIV and hepatitis C testing. Hepatitis C testing requires taking a sample of your own blood and providing it via the mail to a testing site. Results will be returned to you in approximately 7 days.

An at home HIV test can be done either using blood or saliva. A blood test requires sending the sample to a testing site, and it takes an average of 7 days to receive results. A saliva test can provide at home results in approximately 45 minutes. If you choose to complete a test at home, you may wish to follow up with a clinic or with your doctor to verify the results and discuss whether there are any additional steps you should take.

Since many schedule a follow-up visit after completing the at-home testing kits, some choose to forgo the cost of the kits and simply get tested at a medical facility so they can immediately discuss the results with a medical professional. You may also choose to be tested in a facility to ensure that you have support on-hand when you receive the results. If you are uncertain which testing method is best for you, you can contact your local testing facility to discuss your options and the staff will happily provide you with information and resources to guide you.1-5

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