HIV and HCV

If you have previously injected your drugs, it is possible that you may have become infected with hepatitis C (HCV) or HIV.

What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). AIDS is a disease of the immune system for which there is treatment, but no cure, at the present time. The virus (HIV) and the disease it causes (AIDS) are often linked and referred to as “HIV/AIDS.”

No vaccine yet exists to protect a person from getting HIV, and there is no cure. However, HIV can be prevented and its transmission curtailed. HIV medications also help prevent HIV transmission and the progression of HIV to AIDS, greatly prolonging lives.

How Is HIV Spread?

HIV is transmitted by contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. This can occur during unprotected sex or through sharing injecting drug-use equipment. If you share with someone who is HIV-positive, that person’s blood can stay on needles or spread to the drug solution. In which case, you can inject HIV directly into your body.

HIV-infected blood can also get into drug solutions by:

  • Using blood-contaminated syringes to prepare drugs
  • Reusing water
  • Reusing bottle caps, spoons, or other containers to dissolve drugs into water and to heat drugs solutions
  • Reusing small pieces of cotton or cigarette filters (“cottons”) to filter out particles that could block the needle

In addition, untreated infected women can pass HIV to their infants during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding.

What is hepatitis C (HCV)?

Hepatitis is broad term referring to inflammation of the liver. You can get HCV in the same way you get HIV—through unprotected sexual contact and injection drug use.

HCV infection sometimes results in an acute illness, but most often becomes a chronic condition that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. HCV infection is more serious in people living with HIV because it leads to liver damage more quickly.

Co-infection with HCV may also affect the treatment of HIV infection. Therefore, it’s important for people who inject drugs to know whether they are also infected with HCV and, if they aren’t, to take steps to prevent infection.

To find out if you are infected with HIV or HCV, ask your doctor or other healthcare provider to test your blood. There is no reason why you cant be treated for this as well as your drug dependency. If untreated both HIV and HCV can have serious consequences.

Funded by an educational grant from Indivior