COVID-19 & HIV FAQ
The situation with the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is escalating and changing on a daily basis. It’s a very worrying time and a cause of great anxiety and concern – but there is much we can do to reduce the risk to ourselves and others.
Below is some practical advice and guidance specifically for those who are HIV positive and may be immune compromised.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause diseases in animals and sometimes in humans. COVID-19 causes a respiratory (lung) infection.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Most people with COVID-19 have mild respiratory symptoms. The common symptoms are cough, temperature and shortness of breath.
It’s important to remember that these symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common – such as the cold or flu – and don’t necessarily mean you have COVID-19.
If I am HIV Positive am I more at risk of getting COVID-19?
It’s not the case that all people with HIV are considered at increased risk. Those on HIV treatment with a healthy CD4 count and an undetectable viral load are not considered to have weakened immune systems. If on the other hand, your CD4 count is low, if you’re not on or have defaulted on your ARV treatment or if you have a detectable viral load, then it is particularly important that you follow the guidance on social distancing.
COVID-19 & ARV Treatment
If you are HIV positive, it is crucial that you continue to take your medication (ARV treatment) as you normally would. There’s no need to try stockpile medication, just ensure that you always have your month’s supply of medication at home.
How is COVID-19 transmitted?
COVID-19 is a virus and as with other viruses are spread in droplets through coughing and sneezing. Viruses such as coronavirus can survive varying lengths outside the body, depending on the surface type, but regular hand-washing and cleaning of surfaces will reduce the risk of transmission this way.
What can I do to reduce the risk of catching it?
Simple things can reduce your risk of catching COVID-19. Regular hand-washing with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) is an effective way of stopping the spread of viruses.
Also, it’s important to:
- Cover your mouth & nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- Put any used tissues in the bin immediately
- Avoid contact with people who have symptoms of the coronavirus
- Stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact with people outside your household
- Do not socialise in person with friends and family – rather keep in touch remotely using your phone
- If you have to go out, stay two metres away from other people
- Clean common surfaces such as doors, handles, phones/computers/mouse, cups and utensils and handrails
- Only travel on public transport if you need to
Am I at greater risk if I’m HIV positive?
If you are on ARV treatment, with an undetectable viral load and a good CD4 count), then there should be no greater risk.
If you’re living with HIV and do not have an undetectable viral load, have a low CD4 count or are not on or have defaulted on your ARV treatment, it’s even more important to avoid situations where you may get infected and to follow the advice about social distancing.
Can COVID-19 be treated?
COVID-19 is a new type of virus and at present there’s no specific treatment or vaccine. As COVID-19 is a virus, antibiotics will not treat it.
Most people with COVID-19 get mild flu-like and respiratory symptoms and will recover without the need for hospital care. Simple measures such as rest, food, fluids and paracetamol, if you have a fever, will be enough. Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms while your body fights the illness. You would also need to stay in isolation away from other people until you have recovered.
Do HIV drugs treat COVID-19?
There are research trials investigating the use of HIV medication against COVID-19 but there is currently no strong evidence that they are effective to prevent or treat COVID-19. There is also no evidence that being on HIV medication will stop you from getting COVID-19.
You should continue taking your treatment at the recommended dose. Do not increase the number of tablets you take. This will not help if you get COVID-19, it will not protect you from getting it and it will only increase the risk of harmful side-effects.
Do not share your HIV medicine with anyone who has COVID-19 or who is worried about getting it.
What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?
If you think you have COVID-19 then you should stay at home and self-isolate. The symptoms you need be aware of are either:
- A high temperature (you feel hot to touch on your chest or back).
- A new, continuous cough
- Shortness of breath
Where can I get more information / help?
It’s important to get information from reliable sources such as the South African Department of Health, World Health Organisation or other reputable organisations. If you are concerned about yourself or someone else and want to get some advice then use the resources listed below to find out what to do next.
National COVID-19 Hotline: 0800 029 999
Send ‘hi’ on WhatsApp to COVID-19 Connect: 060 012 3456
Visit the website https://www.sacoronavirus.co.za