Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about COVID-19 specifically in relation to people living with HIV (PLHIV). ***UPDATED: 25 May

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about COVID-19 for people living with HIV

Positive Life NSW has collated the following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19 as it specifically relates people living with HIV (PLHIV).

As we closely monitor the evolving situation, these responses will be updated.

1. I am living with HIV, what do I need to know about COVID-19?

There are many questions about COVID-19 that people living with HIV (PLHIV) have and there is more information specifically relating to PLHIV each day.

Currently, the recommendations are to:

  • Keep taking your HIV antiretroviral medication as prescribed
  • Aim to have at least 1-2 months’ supply of all your medications on hand including HIV antiretroviral medication.
  • The supply of HIV medication in Australia has been assured by the pharmaceutical companies, and your prescribing doctor can fax your prescriptions to your pharmacy of choice. From 30 March 2020, pharmacies can offer free delivery of prescription medications to protect your health. Call your local pharmacy to find out if they are also offering this option.
  • Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow when you cough or sneeze
  • Continue to use physical distancing, that is maintaining a distance of 1.5 meters between you and the next person
  • Avoid close contact (1 meter or 3 feet) with people who are unwell
  • Stay home and self-isolate from others in the household if you feel unwell
  • If you have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, self-isolate and seek a test.
  • You can find where to get a COVID-19 test by clicking here. Please call your GP or healthdirect on 1800 022 222 before visiting a clinic.

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

People living with HIV on HIV antiretroviral medication maintaining an undetectable viral load and a CD4 count above 200 cells/mL are not immunocompromised, unless they have another underlying health condition such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular or lung disease.  The current information for PHIV is that we are at no greater risk than those identified within the general population.  

Those most likely to experience more severe illness from COVID-19 are older people over 60 years of age, people who are immune-compromised (defined as CD4 count below 200 cells/mL, or not on HIV antiretroviral therapy to treat their HIV) or who are taking immunosuppressive therapy (e.g. for cancer, kidney, lung or liver transplant) or have a respiratory (lung) or heart condition.  Other people at higher risk are those who smoke which affects overall lung health.

The best things PLHIV can do is to keep doing all the usual activities you’ve been doing to manage your health, diet, exercise, and relaxation.

What is important is to know the symptoms of a possible COVID-19 infection and seek further medical advice from your doctor or treating clinic. If your temperature rises above 38°C or you are experiencing shortness of breath, call ‘000’ immediately.

3. I’ve heard that a HIV drug is being used to treat people with COVID-19. Does that mean my HIV treatment will protect me against COVID-19?

No.

While there has been the suggestion that HIV antiretroviral medication is being used in clinical trials to treat/prevent COVID-19, the clinical trial evidence is not in. Currently it is only one HIV antiretroviral and this is not in generalised use in Australia, so HIV antiretrovirals are not considered protective against COVID-19 including PrEP.

Any medications that have been potentially identified to treat COVID-19 are still being investigated within clinical trials. We should make no assumptions about how these medications may work. Until the results of these clinical trials have been analysed there is no certainty and early indicators are that there may be no benefit is being seen[1].  Until clinical trials have identified the best way to treat COVID-19, to date there is not specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat COVID-19.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 by a medical clinician, you will be assessed and treated as per the recommended protocols and guidelines and this treatment will be added to your current treatment for HIV. The important thing will be to keep taking your HIV antiretroviral medications as directed by your treating doctor.

[1] The COVID-19 pandemic update: transmission, herd immunity and is an exit strategy possible?  Professor Raina MacIntyre Head, Biosecurity Program, Kirby Institute and NHMRC Principal Research Fellow

4. Do I still need to get my flu shot this season?

Yes. It is highly recommended that people living with HIV have the flu vaccine coming into the flu season.

This recommendation has not changed so ask your general practitioner (GP) or Sexual Health Clinic to tell you when the vaccination becomes available.

Due to the physical distancing within the community the number of influenza cases see in Australia are much lower than for the same period last year[1]. However, you still need to get your flu vaccination each year.  As the strains of the virus change (mutate) every year, you will need to have a vaccine every season as the protection from the vaccination you have this season will wane, lose its effect, and not cover you for the next year[2].

Note that flu vaccinations are free for people with chronic conditions which includes HIV. The vaccinations that are offered through chemists are not free so you will need to see your GP or Sexual Health Clinic if you want it free of charge.

The flu vaccinations should start to become available from the first week in April at your GPs. We recommend you call your GP after the beginning of April, as each clinic may have slightly different delivery times of the vaccinations. This would be also a good time to check up on your other health needs and make sure your prescriptions and other vaccinations are up to date.

[1] https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/Influenza/Publications/2020/march-influenza-report.pdf p.6

[2] https://mvec.mcri.edu.au/immunisation-references/influenza-vaccine-frequently-asked-questions/

5. What should I do If I need a sexual health screen?

At this stage Sexual Health Clinics are still operating. You will need to answer a few extra questions about your health in relation to COVID-19 when making the appointment.

Express clinics are not currently running so you will need to make an appointment with your sexual health clinic or general practitioner.

For updates please contact the Sexual Health Info Link 1800 451 624 or visit www.shil.nsw.gov.au or find your local Sexual Health Clinic here and give them a call.

6. I have lost my job or about to lose my job, can I get Centrelink or Income Support?

Federal Income Support options and information is one of the fastest changing aspects in this environment. To ensure we are offering accurate and timely information, for all information regarding Centrelink, Child Support payments and other Social Services, please review the FAQs and information on Services Australia’s website.

If you want support in navigating this website and finding out what information is relevant to you, please contact the Silver Warriors Officer on (02) 9206-2177 or 1800 245 677 (freecall) or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

7. Where can I find other useful information?

There is a lot of information on the internet and within social media. What is important is to focus on the accurate and timely information.

Positive Life NSW maintains a regularly updated page covering COVID-19 and living with HIV. It offers practical resources, tools and strategies specifically as the ‘go-to’ place for those of living in NSW. This page is updated daily, so add it to your bookmarks or keep it handy so you can check back regularly.

NSW Health has an extensive list of FAQs on their website at Coronavirus-FAQ. Here you will find quality, clinical information on a range of topics, from what is a pandemic, more about COVID-19, protecting yourself and others, work, university, school and travel, home isolation, physical distancing, bulk buying, pets and animals, and more.

The latest information about COVID-19 can be found on the websites of NSW Health and The Australian Government Department of Health. The Australian Government website contains accessible and up-to-date information about the response to COVID-19 including details about income support, health alerts and advice, restrictions and safety advice, and services and support to help you through Coronavirus.

COVID-19 and HIV: What you need to knownew - from the International AIDS Society

 

Stay informed. Download the official government “Coronavirus Australia” app in the Apple App Store or Google Play, or join the Australian Government WhatsApp channel on iOS or Android.

 

If you want to talk about your concerns regarding coronavirus as a person living with HIV,  please contact Positive Life NSW and talk to a Treatments or Peer Support Officer, on  (02) 9206-2177 or 1800 245 677 (freecall) or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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