South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world. Almost 8 million people live with this disease. Given that South Africa has recorded over 373,628 cases of COVID-19 positive cases to date, it’s no surprise that there have been questions about how the virus affects people with HIV.
New research, seen as the largest study of a group of people both living with HIV and hospitalized with COVID-19, set out to answer that question. According to the study, being HIV positive does not pose a greater risk for worse COVID-19 results.
Why shouldn’t you worry?
Indeed, the worst had been assumed when no research had been done at all, and while scientists may not necessarily know why, they found that patients with well-controlled HIV in their study population had no worse outcomes compared to a similar one Comparison group. The scientists mentioned that more research would be needed to confirm this.
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“In summary, we did not find any differences in the adverse outcomes associated with HIV infection in hospitalized COVID-19 patients compared to a similar comparison group,” the study concluded.
“Review of this finding in other large cohorts is needed to improve understanding of the effects of COVID-19 on people living with HIV. If this is confirmed, investigation of specific factors that contribute to similar results in this large group of patients with immune disorder may provide better insight into the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2. “
What you need to know
If people living with HIV have worried about what infection with COVID-19 would mean for them, this study should allay their fears.
“I tell [my patients] “Look, take your normal precautions, but there is no reason to live in fear that HIV will make you more likely to die from COVID,” said Dr. Keith Sigel, lead researcher on the study, in a statement.
“While this is the largest published study to date with a comparison group, many studies without comparison groups have shown similar findings – which is comforting.”
HIV awareness and education organization Avert has a few other important points people with HIV should be aware of:
- Current evidence suggests that HIV is less of a risk factor for severe COVID-19 than other health conditions.
- People living with HIV that is untreated or virally suppressed may be at higher risk.
- As with the general population, older people living with HIV and people with other underlying diseases should take extra precautions to prevent disease.
- Try to have ART in your home for at least 30 days. If possible, ask after three months.
The new list of underlying conditions that increase your risk
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a newly expanded list of underlying diseases that put people at increased risk of developing serious COVID-19. It did so after the organization reviewed published reports, pre-print studies, and several other data sources. Here is the updated list:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
- Immunocompromised condition (weakened immune system) due to organ transplantation
- Serious heart diseases such as heart failure, diseases of the coronary arteries or cardiomyopathies
- Sickle cell anemia
The CDC also included a list of other medical conditions that could increase your risk of developing serious COVID-19:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Neurological diseases such as dementia
- Liver disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Cerebrovascular disease
They made it clear that these lists are living documents that can be updated anytime the science advances.
New isolation guidelines for South Africans
The Minister of Health, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, announced that the recommended isolation time for someone who tested positive for COVID-19 is now 10 days, instead of 14 days.
“The presence of detectable virus when tested does not mean infectivity – in mild cases, virus cultures have generally been shown to be positive only eight to nine days after symptoms appear,” said Dr. Mkhize in his statement.
“The duration of infectivity in patients with severe illness is less well known. In general, patients with severe disease can continue to shed the virus at higher concentrations for longer periods than patients with mild disease. “
The new guidelines are as follows:
- An asymptomatic patient can end isolation 10 days after the test.
- A patient with mild illness can end isolation 10 days after symptoms appear.
- A patient with severe illness can end isolation 10 days after clinical stability has been achieved.
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