It’s a rapidly emerging situation that at this stage of the pandemic, new information is critical to address the growing concern and questions related to COVID-19 risks.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted that extreme precaution is to be taken by those who are immunocompromised. Current treatments and underlying conditions can weaken one’s immune system which places them at a higher risk of getting severely sick with COVID-19. It’s also foreseen that those who have a weakened immune system may remain infectious for a longer period compared to others.
According to the CDC, there is “no specific information about the risk of COVID-19 in people with HIV”.
However, considering that HIV-positive individuals are immunocompromised, the CDC recommends that appropriate precautions should be taken. The risk for HIV patients getting severely sick is higher in those who have low CD4 cell count and HIV-positive individuals who are not on any HIV treatment such as antiretroviral therapy.
The risks are considered higher for people with HIV based on their age and other medical conditions.
As of now, there are no vaccines available to prevent acquiring COVID-19 which is why the only way to avoid getting infected is to avoid exposure to the virus.
Everyday preventative actions should be taken and it’s especially important for HIV-Positive individuals to do so. Try your best to limit your physical interactions with other people as much as possible and in the events that it’s unavoidable, maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet with others and make sure that you and others are wearing a mask.
Maintain proper health hygiene such as washing your hands frequently or using alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
It’s important as well that people with HIV maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially under these turbulent times. This includes reducing stress as much as possible, getting at least 8 hours of sleep every day, and eating properly. If chances are that you’re infected with COVID-19, having an immune system that’s as healthy as possible will greatly help fight off the infection.
HIV patients should also continue their treatment and take their medicines. It’s best to regularly talk and follow the advice of your health care provider.
Reported by the United Nations, almost half of the HIV-positive individuals in the United States are aged 50 years and older. The increased age and other underlying medical conditions can increase the risk for more severe illness if they are infected with COVID-19.
In addition to your every day preventative measures, the CDC also recommends HIV-positive individuals to take additional preparation.
Having at least a 30-day supply of the patient’s HIV medicine and other prescribed medications and supplies is important. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closely monitors the drug supply chain as it is expected to be disrupted due to the additional logistical issues because of COVID-19. The National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) are also contacting major manufacturers of HIV medicine because most of the products needed are procured from China.
Being up-to-date with your vaccinations especially against seasonal influenza and bacterial pneumonia is critical. Talk to your health care provider about this because such vaccine-preventable diseases highly affect HIV-positive individuals.
While a stay-at-home is in order, it’s a must that you continue your clinical care through telemedicine. If it’s not available, establish communication through phone or consider switching health care institutions with telemedicine for the meantime.
When it comes to traveling, it’s highly inadvisable to do so especially if the trip scheduled is not essential. For a complete travel recommendation, visit the CDC website.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of change in our daily lives. If you’re HIV-positive, the stress of handling your own condition on top of the COVID-19 may take a toll on your mental health. This is why it’s important that you continue to maintain your social network remotely. While there’s a call for physical distancing, staying socially connected is one of the best ways to stay mentally healthy. Stay in touch with your family, friends, and the people around you. Be vigilant of each other’s health status. If you become sick, COVID-19 or not, make sure to contact people who can help you.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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