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HIV and COVID-19

Current evidence suggests that people with HIV which is not well controlled have a higher risk of becoming very ill if they get COVID-19.  

Take your HIV treatment as prescribed and try to have at least 30 days’ supply at home. 

The current COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people with HIV and will reduce your chances of getting very sick or being hospitalised with COVID-19. 

I have HIV. How can I protect myself from COVID-19?

There are a few things that you can do to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19. 

  1. Take your antiretroviral treatment correctly. This will give your immune system the best chance of fighting COVID-19 if you get it. 

  1. Stock-up on your antiretroviral treatment and other medication you take. Try to have enough for at least 30 days, but ideally for three months. 

  1. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date (such as flu and pneumonia vaccines) and get your COVID-19 vaccine when you are offered it. 

  1. Know how to get in touch with your healthcare facility and peer supporters for advice and support if you need it. 

  1. Have a plan for if you need to stay at home, including how to get food and medicine. 

  1. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet well and exercising as best you can (even at home). 

Also, follow the same general advice that is given to everyone on the World Health Organization website

  • get vaccinated when it’s your turn 
  • keep at least 1 metre from others 
  • wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible 
  • wash your hands often with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water 
  • cover your mouth and nose with a bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze  
  • self-isolate if you develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19. 

Are people with HIV more likely to get COVID-19?

We don’t know if people with HIV are more likely to get COVID-19, as more research is needed to understand this. But, people with HIV who have a compromised immune system should take extra precautions to prevent COVID-19. They may be at a higher risk of getting very ill. This includes people with: 

  • a low CD4 count (<350 copies/cell) 

  • a high viral load 

  • a recent opportunistic infection, for example, tuberculosis (TB) 

  • an AIDS-related illness. 

So, it’s very important to take your antiretroviral treatment, especially during this time. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are not taking treatment or if you are struggling with adherence

Are people with HIV more likely to get very ill from COVID-19?

Evidence suggests that people with HIV are more likely to get very ill, or die from, COVID-19, than people without HIV.  

But, HIV is less of a risk factor than other health conditions. These include obesity, diabetes, severe asthma, respiratory disease, heart disease, liver disease, stroke, dementia, or older age. The best way to stay healthy is by taking your antiretroviral treatment. 

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for people with HIV?

Yes. The COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are safe for people with HIV. Vaccines must pass many safety trials and reviews to ensure they are both safe and effective. Many of the COVID-19 vaccine trials included people with HIV. 

Getting vaccinated will help to protect you from getting sick from COVID-19. So, it’s important to get it when you’re offered. This is especially important for people with HIV, because of the higher risk of getting very ill from COVID-19. 

Will the COVID-19 vaccine affect my HIV treatment?

No. There is no evidence to suggest that HIV treatment interacts with the COVID-19 vaccine and stops either from working. You should continue to take your HIV treatment as normal if you get the COVID-19 vaccine.  

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Are certain groups of people with HIV more at risk of getting COVID-19?

Yes. Just like with people who don’t have HIV, the list of risk factors for COVID-19 is the same in people who do have HIV. These are: 

  • being older 

  • having underlying health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease 

  • obesity.

Does HIV treatment also treat COVID-19?

No. Studies have been conducted to see if antiretrovirals can treat or reduce the symptoms of COVID-19, but there is no evidence to suggest that they can.  

If you are already taking antiretroviral treatment, you can still get COVID-19. So, take precautions to prevent the virus from spreading and reduce your own risk. Remember, taking your HIV treatment will keep your immune system strong, giving you the best chance of fighting COVID-19. 

Where can I get more information about HIV and COVID-19?

Remember, COVID-19 is a new illness and we are still learning more about it. Keep an eye on advice from: 

  • the World Health Organization 

  • your country’s national public health department (Ministry of health) 

  • local HIV organisations 

  • your doctor or healthcare worker.

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