Many people have questions about what COVID-19 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.
More Resources on HIV and COVID-19:
- The CDC: COVID-19: What People with HIV Should Know
- NASTAD: COVID-19 Updates and Resources
- 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