UPDATE: As of October 14, 2021, the CDC’s updated list of medical conditions that could make a person at a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 includes HIV infection.
From the beginning of the coronavirus threat, we’ve been told those most at-risk of infection are older adults, people with serious chronic medical conditions, and those with compromised immune systems.
Some people living with HIV have been confused, however, as to whether they are or are not in that high-risk pool.
Speaking with MetroWeekly, Dr. Sebastian Ruhs, the director of the Infectious Diseases Center of Excellence at Chase Brexton Health Care in Baltimore, said people who are HIV+ with an undetectable viral load thanks to taking antiretroviral medications on a regular basis are not at any greater risk than the general population.
“The current data that we have is that someone who has a normal CD4 and is on medication to maintain an undetectable viral load does not behave any different from someone who is HIV-negative,” said Ruhs. “So the risk for that population isn’t any higher. In that respect, corona appears to behave in a manner like other seasonal viruses do.”
Ruhs does recommend that people living with HIV who are not taking their medications on a regular basis resume care and get back to undetectable status if possible. Additionally, anyone with HIV is urged to be up-to-date with their vaccines.
During a special session of the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections on March 10, Dr. John Brooks, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, underscored that position saying that HIV-positive people who have a low CD4 count or do not have full viral suppression on antiretrovirals could be at greater risk.
Additionally, as I recently reported, the LGBTQ community does have its own unique risk factors during health crises thanks to higher rates of smoking, certain types of cancer, and difficulties accessing healthcare either due to discrimination or lack of insurance coverage.
For now, make sure you wash your hands regularly with soap and water, practice good ‘social distancing,’ and if you aren’t feeling well, stay home, rest and hydrate.
Also, in this time of great uncertainty, remember to support each other and ensure we do all that we can to help and empower the most vulnerable.