Covid-19 and HIV

Covid-19 and HIV

Following the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Positively UK is suspending all group activities and one-to-one support and clinical outreach until further notice.

We appreciate that some people living with HIV might feel particularly anxious or concerned about the spread of COVID-19. We are doing everything we can to keep our support services running and ensure that  our service users are protected and supported during this difficult time.

Therefore, in the coming weeks, we will increase our phone and WhatsApp group support. We will pilot and test new services, such as Facebook livestreaming sessions, GoToMeetings, online peer mentoring and virtual museum tours. Please refer to our website for updates. You can e-mail any suggestions to info@positivelyuk.org or your peer support caseworker.

If you feel anxious or distressed, or if you simply need a listening year, please e-mail your support caseworker or info@positivelyuk.org. You can also call us on 02077130444 and the duty staff member will ensure your message is passed to the relevant person.

Information related to HIV and Covid-19

This information is based on NHS and BHIVA’s resources.

Last updated: 23rd June 2020

Advice is changing so keep on checking the NHS and government websites regularly!

A new condition caused by the SARS-CoV-2 strain of the coronavirus, which spreads very easily from person-to-person (much more so than some other types of coronavirus). Nobody has existing immunity to it.

The symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature
  • shortness of breath

However, these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.

About 80% of people with COVID-19 have relatively mild illness, which can lead to diagnosis of infection being delayed or missed altogether, and increases the risk of passing the virus on. Data from Japan estimates 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 have no symptoms – making control even harder.

 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact and practice social distancing

The government has now specified a group of “extremely vulnerable” individuals who are advised to to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks. People falling into this extremely vulnerable group include solid organ transplant recipients, people with specific cancers, People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD, people with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections, people on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection, women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired. The NHS in England is directly contacting people with these conditions to provide further advice.

The British HIV Association says that there is no evidence that people living with HIV who maintain suppressed viral load are at a greater risk of catching COVID-19. This is because people on HIV treatment with a good CD4 and undetectable viral load are not usually considered to have a “weakened immune system”. People most at risk of serious illness and death are the elderly and people with long-term medical conditions such as lung disease, kidney disease and diabetes. People with CD4 count lower than 200 and those who are not undetectable are however assumed to be a high-risk group too.

In summary:

1. People with CD4 >200 and undetectable on ART are considered at no greater risk than the general population; follow general advice.

2. People with CD4 <200, detectable viral load or not on ART may be at higher risk of severe illness; follow general advice.

3. People with a CD4 count <50 or opportunistic illness in last 6 months; follow shielding advice for extremely vulnerable.

There is no scientific evidence that HIV antiretroviral medications can protect against COVID-19. Do not increase the number of tablets you take as this could damage your health.

Although there is no problem with supplies of HIV medications, it is wise to ensure you have 30 days’ supply of medication. HIV clinics are putting in place measures to ensure that repeat medications are readily available.

In this unprecedented time, advice can change rapidly, so you must refer to the latest information published by reliable sources, such as NHS or Government.

If you have symptoms and live with other people, try to keep three steps away from them. Open windows in shared spaces, use a dishwasher if possible, and clean shared bathroom each time you use it. Sleep alone if possible and do not share towels. Refer to the latest NHS guidelines on stay at home for up-to-date advice. Do NOT go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Use the 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do. Only phone 111 if you cannot get help online, if you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home or your condition gets worse. If you feel anxious or distressed, you can call Positively UK and the duty member of staff will refer you to a peer support caseworker.   

On 31 May the Government updated their guidance for people who are shielding advising them that they can now go outdoors, either with members of their household, or so that they can meet people not from their household, as long as they maintain strict social distancing. However, some experts are concerned that the numbers have not dropped enough and there is a risk the infection rate will increase again. Therefore, in a statement from 2 June, BHIVA advises the following: 

If you have been advised to shield based on HIV (CD4 less than 50 or recent serious HIV-related illness,) or you have well-controlled HIV, but are shielding for other reasons:

1) If you are physically and psychologically able to continue to shield please do so.

2) If you wish to follow the Government’s advice in England and socialise outdoors please be super vigilant in maintaining social distancing, careful hand washing and avoiding any contact at all with people who have symptoms or are known to have COVID-19.

Staying at home and  reduced social contacts may trigger anxieties and worries. Therefore, during this period, it is particularly important to look after your wellbeing. Make plans to video chat with people or groups you’d normally see in person, reconnect with people you have not seen in a while, get as much fresh air and sunlight as possible, and try to stay active. MIND has published an useful resource on looking after your mental health while self-isolating.

Organizations around the world are adapting their services to the online demand and waving membership fees. You can test embedding new exercise, yoga or mindfulness practices to your routine. Some free sources are Yoga with Adriene, Down Dog (Down Dog, Yoga for Beginners, HIIT, Barre, and 7 Minute Workout), Psycle (three live workouts a day on Instagram TV) and Barry’s (ultra-intense bootcamp-style workouts). Now is the time to immerse yourself in the scenic views of Cliffs of Moher, experience the grandeur and drama of iconic venues like The Bolshoi Theatre, watch a free virtual show with the Metropolitan Opera, or discover the animas and habitats of Australian wildlife.

At Positively UK we are determined to do everything possible to keep and support people living with HIV to be strong and resilient. We are here for you, so call our office line or e-mail your peer support caseworker.