Should I be worried about Covid-19 if I’m HIV-positive?

Illustration: Chrupka

@AskPeaches: I’m a 35 year old trans woman and HIV-positive living in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m currently on ART and undetectable. I’ve been practicing social distancing, don’t do much social meet ups and only go out to get groceries and exercise, but I'm wondering whether I need to be especially worried about Covid-19. What do I need to know?

@Charlize: We are going through extraordinary times, so I appreciate this question. This virus is especially a concern for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions and compromised immune systems.

As the disease is less than 10 months old, there’s not a lot that is known at this time about how the virus impacts those living with HIV. There was a recent study in South Africa that showed that people with HIV, even those who had suppressed the virus to undetectable levels, were at a higher risk. These individuals often had comorbid illnesses such as diabetes. This finding has not been seen in the U.S. and Europe. But again, it’s still early to tell. Clinicians are seeing a far greater number of infections and casualty in the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Half of all HIV diagnosis in the U.S. are people over the age of 50. This means that those who are HIV-positive in this age group can also be impacted. Other potentially affected groups include those with a low CD4 cell count, anyone who is HIV-positive but not on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and anyone of any age who is HIV-positive but who also has other comorbid illness, like hypertension, diabetes, or asthma. Depending on your own health history, some of the above may or may not apply to you.

The following is a list of recommendations by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help strengthen your immune system and plan in case of a Covid-19-positive diagnosis:
Continue to be consistent with taking your ART.

  • Eat healthily.
  • Get eight hours of sleep, if possible.
  • Reduce any stressors in your life that you can control.
  • Maintain at least a 30-day stock of all your medications and medical supplies.
  • Consult your healthcare provider to make sure your vaccinations are up to date, including for seasonal influenza and bacterial pneumonia.
  • Should you need to be at home because you have Covid-19, put a plan in place to maintain contact with your healthcare provider, which may include arranging for telemedicinal services.
  • Maintain social connections with your friends and family while you are keeping socially distant and in case of emergency.

The @AskPeacheas column is prepared by committee but written from one person’s experience. Send emails to askpeaches [at] freshfruitinc [dot] com with “@AskPeaches” in the subject line. Be sure to give enough background, so the advice can be more specific and relevant.

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