What do we know about HIV and coronavirus (COVID-19)?
We know that HIV treatment is important for the health of people living with HIV. It enables individuals to maintain an undetectable viral load (reducing it to a level that tests cannot detect) and gives the immune system the stability and strength it requires to fight off infections and disease, including respiratory conditions caused by COVID-19. People living with HIV on effective HIV treatment can’t pass it on during sex, so HIV treatment is also good for both you and your sexual partner.
As a new disease, scientists are still continuing to learn a lot about COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. However, evidence suggests that healthy people living with HIV who are on effective medication are no more likely to be affected by the disease than the general population.
HIV treatment is important
If you have HIV, the sooner you find out you have it, the better it is for your health. You can start treatment and it’s much less likely to have a negative impact on your health or the length of your life.
If you have HIV for a long time without knowing, it can damage your health and shorten your life. The only way to know if you have HIV is to take an HIV test – as you can have HIV without any symptoms for more than three years. It’s a good idea to test whenever you change sexual partners and you are not using protection (condoms or PrEP). We recommend at least once a year, or more often if necessary.
Knowing you have HIV now will give you the opportunity to start HIV treatment, give your immune system the best chance to stay strong and healthy – and fight off COVID-19 should you become infected.
If you are living with HIV and aren’t currently taking HIV medication it is recommended you contact your clinic to discuss starting it. HIV testing, treatment and care is free in the UK, regardless of immigration status.
Changing HIV treatment
It was initially thought that certain HIV medications might be effective against coronavirus (COVID-19). However, there’s no strong evidence that this is the case and there’s no need to change your HIV treatment if it’s working well for you.
What if I am classed as vulnerable or have a low CD4 count?
Even though some lockdown measures are easing in England, people who have been advised to shield in their homes should continue to do so until the end of June. This applies to you if you’re living with HIV and have a CD4 count of less than 50 or had an opportunistic infection in the past six months.
If you live with HIV and another long-term condition, particularly respiratory illnesses or diabetes, you may have also been advised to shield by your GP or other healthcare professionals.
If you have concerns about returning to work or are a key worker, contact THT Direct who can offer you support and advice.
What should I do if I am admitted to hospital with COVID-19?
People living with HIV are strongly recommended to tell the nurses and doctors looking after them about all their medical conditions, including HIV. This helps them to give you the right medication and tests.
You should continue to take your HIV medication when in hospital; you’ll have the best chance of fighting COVID-19 if your viral load remains undetectable and your immune system stable.
- You should test for HIV at least once a year. If you receive a positive diagnosis you can start HIV treatment immediately and this’ll help to keep your immune system healthy.
- If you are living with HIV continue to take your HIV treatment, it’ll offer you the best chance of successfully fighting COVID-19 should you become infected.
- If you are classified as a vulnerable person, continue to follow shielding advice. Should you end up in hospital, make sure they’re aware you have HIV.
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