British HIV organisations clarify coronavirus advice for people living with HIV

27 March 2020

People with advanced HIV disease, opportunistic infections, or those not accessing treatment should be extra vigilant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NHS hospital in London UK

According to current evidence, people ‘living well’ with HIV are not considered to be at any greater risk of getting SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 illness, or developing severe symptoms. But the association of being immunosuppressed, with living with HIV, has highlighted some confusion, which HIV organisations are now clarifying.

In a joint statement from the British HIV Association (BHIVA) and the UK HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), they detail which specific groups of people living with HIV in the UK should take extra precautions in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The large majority of people living with HIV in the UK are on ‘effective’ antiretroviral treatment – meaning their white blood cell count (known as CD4 t-cell count) is high, and their viral load (the amount of HIV in their body) is very low. In fact, people living with HIV can now achieve ‘undetectable’ levels of virus in the body, meaning they cannot pass the virus to others and are physically living very well with HIV.

However, people with advanced HIV, opportunistic infections, or those not accessing treatment should be extra vigilant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, those with CD4 counts below 50 or who have had an opportunistic infection in the last six months should be classed as ‘extremely vulnerable’ under UK guidance and employ shielding measures to protect themselves from coronavirus. That means they should not leave their house and minimise all contact with others to essential contact until told to do otherwise.

While this advice is not based on any specific evidence, both BHIVA and THT say that this group should be encouraged to do so given the compromised state of their immune system.  

For people living with HIV with CD4 counts between 50 and 200, the statement reads that this group may be at a greater risk when compared to the general population, but should continue to follow general UK government advice.

Current UK government guidance advises people to stay in their homes and only travel outside for work and when it is absolutely necessary. Frequent handwashing, avoiding touching your face and avoidance of all people outside of your home is also recommended.

Written by Caitlin Mahon

Content Specialist - HIV & Sexual Health

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