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COVID-19 & PLHIV

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has raised concerns for a lot of people living with HIV (PLHIV). We've put together some answers to frequently asked questions as well as links to additional resources.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

If I am HIV-positive, am I more at risk of COVID-19?
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While everyone is at risk of contracting COVID-19, the consequences of infection are more severe for some vulnerable groups. This includes PLHIV who are:

  • Aged over 60 years old
  • Living with a detectable viral load or not on HIV treatment
  • Diabetic
  • Smokers
  • Living with a comorbidity such as heart or lung issues

If you are living with HIV, have an undetectable viral load, and CD4 count above 200 - you are at no greater risk of poorer health outcomes due to COVID-19. That being said, you should still exercise the basic strategies for preventing COVID-19.

Does my HIV medication protect me from COVID-19?
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There is ZERO evidence to support the idea that HIV drugs can prevent or treat COVID-19.

There have been reports online of HIV drugs being trialed as treatments; however, these studies are in the very early stages of development. Being on antiviral medication for HIV has not been shown to provide protection from COVID-19, and this applies to treatments for hepatitis C as well.

If I get COVID-19, will it affect my viral load?
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There is no evidence that your viral load will be affected if you get COVID-19.

If you have a sustained undetectable viral load (UVL), then it may be similar to when you get the flu vaccination. This can cause a small increase in your viral load that will return to undetectable in a short period of time. Therefore, it is logical to assume that if you were to get COVID-19, that there might be a small and short timed increase in your viral load.

For people who do have a small but detectable viral load, or have a generally high viral load, it again makes logical sense to suggest that COVID-19 may increase your viral load further, however the degree of increase is not yet known.

Anyone who is HIV positive should continue to take their medication as prescribed regardless of whether they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or not.

If you are living with HIV and are diagnosed with COVID-19, discuss your viral load testing with your doctor once you recover from COVID-19.

Is there a shortage of HIV drugs?
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There are currently no shortages of HIV treatment medications.

Some pharmacies may have limits on how much you can fill at a time. This is to discourage stockpiling and ensures a sufficient supply for everyone. Discuss with your pharmacist about having them hold on to your repeats, and collecting them later - or having them delivered if possible.

If you have other conditions besides HIV, you should ensure you have a good supply of all of your medications over the months ahead. Be mindful of when your current medications run out and when it is time to order more.

What about vaccinations?
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The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia is currently underway. You can find more information on our COVID-19 Vaccinations page.

Are you eligible?

If you are living with HIV you qualify to receive the vaccine as part of Phase 1b. This is because people living with primary or acquired immunodeficiency are listed as a priority population.

The current vaccine that is being offered generally in the community is the one manufactured by Astra Zeneca. This vaccine is given in as two doses. After your first vaccination, the second one is administered 12 weeks later. There have been some media reports regarding blood clotting as a side effect of this vaccine. It is important to stress that this is an extremely rare side effect. If you have any concerns regarding the vaccination, contact your doctor or visit: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines

Other vaccines for COVID-19 will become available later in the year.

Other health conditions and priority groups are also included in Phase 1b. To check your eligibility visit: Vaccines Eligibility Checker (healthdirect.gov.au)

Should I self-isolate?
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If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 you should be in self-isolation and not having physical contact with others.

Self isolation means staying at home for 14 days. This is to stop the possible spread of COVID-19 to other people. This means you:

  • Do not leave your home unless it is an emergency
  • Do not go to public places such as work or shopping centres
  • Do not let visitors in – only people who live with you should be in your home.

If you live alone, you may need to ask others who are not in isolation to get food and necessities for you. If needed, Thorne Harbour can help, contact the Positive Living Centre on (03) 9863 0444

PLHIV who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 (see 'If I am HIV-positive, am I more at risk of COVID-19?' above) should exercise strict physical distancing to limit their risk of COVID-19. For more information on physical distancing, check out The Basics.

In March 2020, we released an update for PLHIV in partnership with Living Positive Victoria and Positive Women Victoria. Click here to read the update.

The Victorian Department of Health has also released a fact sheet for PLHIV - click here to download.

Our team on JOY 94.9's Well, Well, Well recently unpacked a lot of the myths surrounding COVID-19 as they spoke to the inaugural Director of the Doherty Institute and leading infectious diseases expert, Professor Sharon Lewin as well as Living Positive Victoria President Richard Keane.

Listen to Well, Well, Well - Coronavirus and People Living with HIV

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