HIV and COVID-19 Q & A

Are people with HIV at higher risk for COVID-19 than other people?

At present there is no evidence to suggest that there is an increased risk of infection for people living with HIV (PLWH).  There is currently no reported case of COVID-19 infection among PLHIV, though this can rapidly change as the virus spreads.

Are people with HIV at more risk of getting very sick from COVID-19?

Based on current information from patients who have been ill with COVID-19, the main risks for getting very sick are older age (age >= 60) and other medical problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease (like emphysema), and hypertension. Some very healthy people have also developed severe disease from the coronavirus infection.

The risk from immune suppression from HIV itself is not known. In other infections, the risk for people with HIV getting sick is greatest in:

  • People with a low CD4 cell count, and
  • People not on HIV treatment or who’s virus is not controlled with treatment.

Staying on your HIV medications is important for your health

What precautions should I take as a person living with HIV?

PLHIV should  take the same precautions as the general population (e.g. wash hands often, covering a cough or sneeze, avoid touching your face, social distancing, seek medical care if symptomatic, self-isolation if in contact with someone with COVID-19 and other actions per the government response).  People with HIV should also continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes:

  • Eating right,
  • Getting at least 8 hours of sleep, and
  • Reducing stress as much as possible.

Staying healthy helps your immune system fight off infection should it occur.

What else can I do to stay healthy?

PLHIV who are taking ARV drugs should ensure that they have at least 30 days of ARVs on hand and ensure that their influenza and pneumococcal vaccines are up to date

Maintain a social network remotely, such as online, by phone, or by video chat. This can help you stay socially connected and mentally healthy, which is especially important for people with HIV.  While we may have to stay apart from each other physically we can still stay connected socially.

People with HIV can sometimes be more likely than others to need extra help, from friends, family, neighbors, community health workers, and others. If you become sick make sure you stay in touch by phone or email with people who can help you.

Our providers and case managers are here to help you and are working every day. Please call us if you need help

Follow the recommendations from the NM DOH on social distancing, avoiding crowds, staying home, and other public health orders.  We are in this together to help keep each other healthy.

What do I do if I get sick?

Call us for advice so we can help assess you and sort out where you should go for any needed testing or treatment.  We want sick people to call us first before coming in, so we don’t expose other people to infection. If you have a cough, fever, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing we implore you to call us to be properly assessed and advised as to your care.  We have nurses available to do an initial assessment over the phone.

Is there a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, although many researchers are working hard on developing a vaccine. The best way to prevent getting sick is to avoid exposure to the virus.

I’ve heard that some HIV medications may help treat COVID 19…is that true?

Some types of HIV medicine (in particular, lopinavir/ritonavir which is known as Kaletra) are being evaluated in clinical trials to treat COVID-19.  Data from a trial was published on March 19th showing that the use of lopinavir/ ritonavir (Kaletra) DID NOT reduce deaths or help people recover faster from COVID-19 infection. Several other non-HIV medications are currently being investigated to treat or prevent COVID-19.

People with HIV should NOT switch their HIV medicine in an attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19

Are shortages of HIV medications for PreP medications expected?

Drug shortages or anticipated problems with HIV medicine have not been identified. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is closely monitoring the drug supply chain. As of March 10, 2020, there were no reports of manufacturing concerns or supply shortages.

Is it safe to take Ibuprofen if I have COVID-19?

Social media has been circulating concerns about the use of ibuprofen (a commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) in people with COVID -19.  Currently there  is NO scientific evidence establishing a link between ibuprofen and worsening of COVID-19. If you need to treat a fever, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen are both options. There are some people who should, in general, avoid ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories due to other underlying health conditions. This includes people with chronic kidney disease and people who may be on certain blood thinners. If you have any questions about which medication is saest for you, please contact our clinic so we can advise you

When should I contact the Department of Health?

If any of the following are true, call the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) at 1-855-600-3453:

  • You have fever, cough, or shortness of breath, and in the 14 days before your symptoms started, you visited Europe, mainland China, South Korea, or Iran or were in contact with a person known to have COVID-19
  • You do not have fever, cough, or shortness of breath, but you did travel to Europe, mainland China, South Korea, or Iran, in the last 14 days, or were in contact with a person known to have COVID-19

Should I be going to work?

Any person who is sick with respiratory symptoms and/ or fever should stay home to keep you, your co-workers, and the public safe.  Please call us if you are sick so we can assess you and advise you on further care, testing, and treatment. If you have traveled or been in contact with a known COVID-19 case, please let us know.

Many places of employment are insisting employees stay home or self-quarantine for up to 14 days, but this is not the case for all. It is between your employer and you whether you can work from home. Work with your employer if you feel you are at a higher risk than other employees and feel you need special accommodation. This decision is between you and your employer.

Currently, we are unable to provide work notes or notes for work accommodation for patients unless they are showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or other illness.

Good websites for more information include:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/hiv.html

https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-on-covid-19-hiv-and-antiretrovirals

https://cv.nmhealth.org/