What is the difference between HIV and HCV?
There are many similar characteristics between HIV and HCV, but there also many differences. The following information outlines the basic definitions, and some similarities and differences, in the following areas: transmission, how long each virus is able to live outside of the body, and treatment.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is an infection that attacks the immune system, decreasing the body’s ability to fight infection. It is a ‘retrovirus’ – meaning it develops and strengthens over a long time.
There are 2 strains of HIV: HIV-1, and HIV-2. In the USA, the most common strain is HIV-1.
HVC (Hepatitis C Virus) is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver, and liver disease. It is one of a group of viruses known as ‘flaviviruses’ – from ‘yellow fever’.
There are 6 strains of HCV: genotypes 1,2,3,4,5 and 6.
Both HIV and HCV can be transmitted through bodily fluids, such as blood, semen and vaginal fluids. In the USA, the highest rate of transmission of HIV is through sexual contact. HCV, on the other hand is mostly caught from needles or drug paraphernalia that is infected with the virus.
Both infections can be passed from mother to baby in the womb, through the placenta. However, the risk of infection can be greatly reduced using various antiviral drugs. The probability of a woman with HIV passing the infection on to her child in her breast milk is high, whereas the risk of a mother passing on HCV to her child via breastfeeding is almost non-existent, unless the mother has cracked/bleeding nipples.
NB: Neither infection can be caught by hugging, holding hands with, or sitting next to an infected
How long each virus can live outside the body:
HIV doesn’t last long outside the human body; only a few minutes when exposed to air, longer when blood is present, particularly in a closed container e.g. a syringe.