What do we know about HIV and coronavirus (COVID-19)?

28 May 2020

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.

Important points

  • 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.

More information

Get more information on HIV and COVID-19:

Sex and your sexual health during lockdown

28 April 2020

ISWM Summer 2019 - Bisi

We’re here to answer the top five questions you might have during this time of social distancing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen huge changes to our lives, including our sex lives. With the Government advice on social distancing, people have been advised not to leave their homes to meetup with anyone, but this has resulted in many questions about how to look after our sexual health during these challenging times.

Can I still have sex during lockdown?

Unless you are having sex with someone else living in your home, the guidance is that you shouldn’t be meeting up with anyone.

This isn’t about your sexual health, this is to protect your general health and people around you who could be vulnerable to coronavirus. Regardless if it’s someone you regularly hook-up with or even your partner, if they live outside your home, meeting up for sex is off the cards for the time being.

That’s because no one should be leaving their home other than for the reasons outlined by the Government (exercise, buying essential items, medical reasons or going to work). The more times you go outside, the greater risk you have in coming into contact with the virus.

It’s also worth remembering that even if you don’t have any symptoms, you might still be infectious. It’s estimated that one in three people who contract coronavirus will show no symptoms.

But fear not, there are still plenty of alternative ways to have sex, such as using toys, phone sex and of course masturbation. All of these have zero risk of passing on coronavirus. Our favourite sexual health nurse, Sarah Mulindwa, has written a great blog post on why it’s time to end the shame of female masturbation.

Are sexual health clinics still open?

Check your local sexual health clinic to find out what services they are providing.

To free up capacity elsewhere in the NHS, sexual health clinics have greatly reduced or closed their face-to-face services for non-urgent care. This means that if you don’t have any sexually transmitted infection (STI) symptoms, it’s unlikely you’ll get seen.

For anyone with symptoms or needed urgent assistance, for example PEP, you can still get in touch with your clinic by telephone in the first instance. Walk-in appointments are no longer available so it is important you do not attempt to visit a clinic without contacting them first.

We advise that everyone who is sexually active tests at least once a year for HIV, along with regular STI screenings.

Postal testing for STIs and HIV are still available in many parts of the country. This usually involves taking a small sample of body fluids and posting it back to a lab, with results sent by text message or email a few days later.

Alternatively, if you want to use an HIV self testing kit, where you get to read your own results, you can order one online from a number of retailers or from Terrence Higgins Trust’s Fastest site. If you need treatment, you will still be able to access it.

Where can I get condoms?

Across the country, a number of local councils and sexual health organisations are offering free condom postal schemes for people at risk of poor sexual health. Check out your local sexual health clinic or organisation for more details.

If you’re not able to source free condoms by post most pharmacies and supermarkets remain open and will stock condoms and lube, and a larger variety can usually be found from online health retailers.

While many of us have a little more time on our hands, now is the perfect time to do your homework on finding the perfect fit when it comes to condoms. Take our condom quiz and answer just three quick questions and we’ll recommend condoms to suit you or your partner.

Should I still be taking PrEP?

The decision on whether to continue taking PrEP is a personal one. If you do decide to stop taking PrEP during lockdown, it’s really important to do so safely – how to do this is different for different people.

However, if you are having regular sex with someone in your household and there is an increased risk of HIV transmission, then continue taking PrEP as prescribed. If you are accessing PrEP through the NHS England trial, your trial site should be in contact when you are due a new prescription.

I’m living with HIV, do I need to self-isolate for three months?

In line with guidance issued by Terrence Higgins Trust and British HIV Association (BHIVA), people who have well-controlled HIV i.e. a CD4 of 200 or more, are not at any greater risk from coronavirus.

You should follow the social distancing guidance issued by the Government to the general population. If you have any other health conditions which may increase your risk from COVID-19, or a CD4 count of less than 50, it’s advised you self-isolate or ‘shield’ for three months to protect yourself.

If you have any concerns about your own situation, you should contact your HIV clinic.

Female masturbation is empowering, not shameful

6 April 2020

By: Sarah Mulindwa, sexual health nurse

Being on lockdown is new and strange for all of us. Physically, mentally and – now you’ve got your head around it – sexually. The Government has told everyone to stay at home and to stop all non-essential journeys and activities. So that means:

  • Travelling to the local supermarket for food – essential
  • Going to work (only if necessary, i.e NHS workers) – essential
  • Going to get your medication – essential
  • Taking a trip to your boyfriend or sexual partner’s house to have sex – NOT ESSENTIAL!

Now I know the last one may feel like an essential at times. Don’t get me wrong, it’s completely natural to want to have sex not just for pleasure, but to help release stress and anxiety that may be resurfacing, especially in such uncertain times.

With people being made redundant and facing financial restraints, you may be looking for a sexual relief. But unfortunately self-isolation has now become our ‘new normal’, so for right now you have to find other ways to achieve sexual pleasure and satisfaction.

In accordance with the rules, you can only have sex with someone in your immediate household and can’t go back and forth between you and partner’s places. This is to slow the spread of COVID-19, reduce the burden on the NHS and protect the most vulnerable in society.

So, unless your partner’s living with you, until the Government’s instructions regarding self- isolation are lifted, you are your only source of sexual pleasure. Now I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Female masturbation and pleasure are still very much a taboo topic in society today. Even when reading this, I’m sure some woman somewhere cringed at the very mention of the words.

No one knows for certain why there is so much stigma around female pleasure and masturbation. Although, some may argue the fact that women are able to take control of their sexual pleasure without men’s involvement is something our patriarchal society is yet to come to terms with.

Because, let’s face it, a woman being able to do anything without a man is prosperous, right? (Rolls eyes.)

While this concept may be true of society, it’s extremely harmful because it then results in masturbation being perceived as something only men can do – which is obviously not the case!

Normalising female masturbation

You’ve all heard the saying desperate times call for desperate measures. Now even though you shouldn’t refer to female masturbation as desperate measures (because it’s natural) the reality of it is – you can’t go and visit your boyfriend, you can’t hook up with anyone and you can’t go around your ex’s house for ‘closure’ (I would suggest you all refrain from doing the latter, coronavirus or not – let’s leave exes in the past).

The sexual response cycle has four key stages: Desire, Arousal, Orgasm and Resolution. With each come waves of hormonal changes and fluctuations. In other words, stimulation will lower the hormones that cause you stress (a hormone called cortisol) and heighten your good hormones (endorphins).

The latter triggers a rush and release feeling. You ever hear people say how much better they feel after a work out? Well, masturbation releases stress and tension in the same or very similar way. Because your brain is in high activation during this time, it means you’re getting high levels of oxygen in your brain, which has a multitude of benefits.

So what better time to explore your sexual desires and pleasures alone thus normalising female masturbation, than when the Government has confined you to the four walls of your room (not literally, obviously). Female masturbation doesn’t only give women the power to control our sexual needs, but it also sends a clear message out to society that it’s OK for women to pleasure ourselves without the assistance of men – it’s empowering!

During these uncertain scary times, everyone needs to play our part in ensuring we lessen the chances of coronavirus spreading and the best way to do that is by STAYING AT HOME.

Sarah Mulindwa is a sexual health nurse.

It Starts With Nana

19 September 2016

‘I’m very passionate about HIV prevention because I’m from one of the most affected communities.’isaac_tht-600x300

What inspires someone to battle stigma head on and model for a high profile HIV campaign?

Meet Nana Bonsu, a self-employed 34-year-old from London and one of the real people featuring in the HIV prevention campaign It Starts With Me. The campaign features real people sharing their personal stories on HIV and will appear across England on billboards, public transport, social media and in the press. Nana explained his motivations for getting involved.

‘I’m very passionate about HIV prevention because I’m from one of the most affected communities and I make it a point to test for HIV every 12 months. I know many people who suffer from the illness or who have died out of a lack of information.’

‘I feel personally obliged because someone has to take the responsibility to talk about it. I think the It Starts With Me campaign is a platform where a whole group of people can come together and change the way HIV is viewed.’

The campaign aims to show that HIV is not something to be feared, but is something each of us can control in our own lives through regular HIV testing and using condoms.

‘If people get tested and they find out that they are positive; they get help, they get treatment. If they test and are negative, they can seek to remain negative,’ Nana added.

One in six people living with HIV in the UK do not know they have it and are therefore likely to pass on the virus.

Get tested

Do your bit to stop HIV in the UK by getting tested.