The HCV and HIV coinfected patient: what have we learned about pathophysiology?
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is an important problem in individuals who are also infected with HIV. HCV infection is very common in HIV-infected individuals, occurring in approximately one quarter to one third of this group, presumably as a consequence of shared routes of transmission related to virologic and pathogenic aspects of the viral infections. Although both are single-stranded RNA viruses and share similar epidemiologic properties, there are many important differences. Although the quantity of HIV RNA in plasma is an important prognostic determinant of HIV infection, this has not been shown with HCV. A direct relationship is apparent between HIV-related destruction of CD4 cells and the clinical consequences of the disease resulting from immunodeficiency. The pathogenesis of HCV, which occurs as a consequence of hepatic fibrosis, is much more complex. The hepatic stellate cell, the major producer of the extracellular matrix protein, is the main contributor to hepatic fibrosis, but the mechanism by which HCV induces hepatic fibrosis remains unclear. Treatment of HCV is increasingly important in HIV-infected patients due to improved HIV-associated morbidity and mortality and due to the frequency with which HCV occurs in patients with HIV-HCV coinfection. Timing of treatment initiation, management of side effects, and possible effects of anti-HCV therapy on HIV are among the issues that need consideration. Also, because several issues concerning HCV are unique to coinfected patients, further research is needed to determine optimal management of HCV in this setting.