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COVID-19 Questions HIV-Positive Individuals Want Answered

Maggie L. Shaw
The environment surrounding the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic seems to change by the minute. The full extent to which HIV-positive individuals can be affected if they contract COVID-19, because they are immunocompromised, is not known. Recently, the CDC issued guidance for this patient population.
The environment surrounding the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic seems to change by the minute. The full extent to which HIV-positive individuals can be affected if they contract COVID-19, because they are immunocompromised, is not known. Recently, the CDC issued guidance for this patient population, addressing uncertainty these individual may have in light of the ever-updating trove of available information.

In the document, the CDC addresses these questions:
  • Are people with HIV at higher risk for COVID-19 than other people?
  • What can people with HIV do to protect themselves?
  • Can HIV medicine (antiretroviral therapy [ART]) be used to treat COVID-19?
  • Are shortages of HIV medicine (ART) or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) expected?
  • What can everyone do to minimize stigma about COVID-19?
 

Are people with HIV at higher risk for COVID-19 than other people?

Yes, HIV-positive individuals are at higher risk, in general, due to their disease status. However, at present, extensive information on if this risk is elevated with COVID-19 because of immune suppression remains an unknown. As with other patients with comorbid conditions or who suffer from respiratory infections, low CD4 counts (below 200 cells/mm3 indicates AIDS) and lack of treatment adherence increases the overall risk of getting very sick.

What can people with HIV do to protect themselves?

Avoid exposure to COVID-19, and know how the disease is spread so you know what and whom to avoid. Practice these measures, among others: Wash those hands. Eat right. Continue your treatment and listen to your doctors. Have at least a 30-day supply of your medicine(s) on hand. Stay home, avoiding all nonessential travel. And as much as it may be difficult to do so, stay away from loved ones who are sick. You can still stay in touch via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, or email. Maybe even pick up the phone. Most importantly, have that clinical care plan. Telehealth is especially useful right now to keep on top of this.

Can HIV medicine treat COVID-19?

DO NOT switch your drug regimens if you think they can treat, much less prevent, COVID-19. According to the CDC, “Some types of HIV medicine (in particular, lopinavir/ritonavir) are being evaluated in clinical trials to treat COVID-19. While there is some evidence that this type of HIV medicine might help treat infections with [severe acute respiratory syndrome] and [Middle East respiratory syndrome] (2 other coronaviruses related to the virus that causes COVID-19), there are no data available yet from clinical trials that these drugs help people with COVID-19.” To date, however, trial results are mixed on the use of these drugs in the current pandemic.

Are shortages of ART or PrEP expected?

No shortages have been reported thus far, but anyone who wants to stay up-to-date can visit the FDA and National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors online.

What can everyone do to minimize stigma about COVID-19?

Be able to recognize these signs and symptom of COVID-19: fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Know that just because someone is of Asian descent, that doesn’t mean they have a greater risk of spreading the disease. Most of all, share accurate information.

Reference

COVID-19: what people with HIV should know. CDC website. cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/hiv.html? Accessed March 23, 2020.

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