With coronavirus (COVID-19) cases across the U.S., there is an increased focus on maintaining a healthy immune system. Many also have questions about what the new coronavirus means for people living with HIV.
A weakened immune system can make you more vulnerable if you become ill, including with COVID-19. For people living with HIV, it is critical to be consistent with care and treatment to keep your HIV suppressed and immune system healthy. This will help to keep your CD4 count up and your viral load down.
Left untreated, HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically CD4 cells, which fight off infections. Fortunately, there are medications that work to keep HIV in check, so that your immune system is working as it is supposed to.
Here are some answers to your questions about HIV and coronavirus and reminders about how to live healthy and well with HIV:
Take your medications every day as prescribed.
The medications used to treat HIV are known as antiretrovirals or ARVs. Taken every day as prescribed, ARVs keep HIV in check by keeping your CD4 count up and your HIV viral load – the amount of HIV in the body – down. This helps to keep your immune system strong. Keeping up with your medication also has the added benefit of stopping HIV from being passed to sexual partners.
Keep up with your doctor’s visits and labs.
Even if you are not feeling sick, go to your regular check-ins with your HIV care provider. Viral load tests ordered by your doctor make sure your medication is working well for you. They will also check your CD4 count to make sure your immune system stays strong. If adjustments are necessary, they can prescribe another type of ARV.
Let your healthcare provider know how you are feeling and any difficulties you may be having with your treatment. If you can’t get into your doctor’s office, ask about virtual visits or phone call appointments.
If you are not currently in care, get connected or reconnected.
There are programs to help you get the medications and medical care you need to stay healthy as someone with HIV.
For people living with HIV who have no insurance, or are underinsured, The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program works with health departments and community-based organizations to provide HIV medical care and other support services. You can also get help with other social support needs, including housing assistance, mental health care, dental care, substance abuse, and other services.
The AIDS Drug Assistance Program or ADAP helps cover the cost of HIV-related prescription medications for low- to moderate- income people who have limited or no prescription drug coverage. Each state operates its own ADAP, so eligibility may vary from state to state, as well as other program elements.
Your local Ryan White / ADAP program can help you figure out what is available to you and the best options for getting access to care and treatment. In view of the new coronavirus, some states are making eligibility procedures more flexible to allow for social distancing among clients and staff. Whether new or returning, you can ask about appointments by phone or video, and may be able to submit documents electronically if local regulations allow.
Additionally, under the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, people with HIV can buy their own coverage in the healthcare marketplace. In response to COVID-19 in the U.S., a number of states have opened enrollment to allow people to purchase insurance through the health insurance marketplaces outside of the typical open enrollment period. Depending on your income level, financial assistance may be available. In most states, coverage may also be available through expanded Medicaid programs. Learn more about getting and paying for HIV care.
Make sure your prescriptions are up to date and that you have a full supply of your medications.
Don’t wait until the last minute to refill your prescription. If possible, ask your provider if you can get an extra month’s supply of your medication so that you always have treatment available. And check with your health plan to find out how they might help ensure continued access to treatment during this time. Some insurers allow up to a 90-day supply, while others may let you renew to have some extras on hand.
Keep your distance, stay connected. #StayHomeSaveLives
Referred to as physical or social distancing, this means putting distance between yourself and others, including staying home as much as possible and avoiding contact with those outside your household. This is both to keep yourself and your loved ones from getting sick, as well as inadvertently passing the coronavirus to others, both of which can overburden the health system. If you have any signs of illness, you should not leave the house at all until symptoms clear.
When you leave the house for essential needs only, the guidance from the CDC is to keep at least six feet between you and others. Essential needs may include going to the grocery store (try to limit to one time a week) or pharmacy. Outdoor exercise is allowed in most areas. For more on physical / social distancing go to the CDC or check your local health department for guidance in your area. Click here for mental health resources, including free/low cost and virtual or phone support options.
The CDC also recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Simple cloth face coverings can help slow the spread of the virus by preventing people who may not know they have the virus from transmitting it to others. Click here for more on face coverings from the CDC.
And, keep up with that hand washing!
According to the CDC, one of the best ways to protect against coronavirus is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Also avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and stay home if you’re feeling sick.
For up-to-date information about the latest on COVID-19 in the U.S., including what you can do to keep yourself and loved ones healthy, visit the CDC-supported coronavirus.gov.
More Resources on HIV and Coronavirus
- The CDC: COVID-19: What People with HIV Should Know
- NASTAD: COVID-19 Updates and Resources
- HRSA Ryan White HIV/AIDS Programs: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions
- HIV.gov: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and People with HIV
- NIH / AIDSinfo: Interim Guidance for COVID-19 and Persons with HIV
- HIVMA: COVID-19: Special Considerations for People with HIV
- Fenway Health: Coronavirus, COVID-19, and Considerations for People Living with HIV and LGBTQIA+ People
- TheBody: What You Need to Know About the New Coronavirus and HIV
- COVID-19 and People Living with HIV Frequently Asked Questions