For HIV patients, 'every precaution should be taken' to avoid coronavirus

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 5, 2020 at 7:32 PM

About 500 HIV-positive patients from across the region receive health care services from the HIV/AIDS Center of Excellence at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine.

Amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Family Nurse Practitioner Roxanne Underwood said it’s important to be mindful of the risks presented to immunocompromised patients in which the disease can “rapidly become severe.”

Underwood said COVID-19 has the potential to be particularly dangerous for patients with advanced HIV or AIDS, older patients and those with other underlying medical issues.

“Currently, we have limited data, but the disease does not appear to be different in those with HIV infection. Until more is known, every precaution should be taken with those who have HIV. Patients not taking antiretroviral medications, or those with compromised immunity due to advanced HIV or AIDS are at greater risk,” she said.

“It’s important to recognize that many people living with HIV also fall into general categories that increase the potential for a more severe course of COVID-19 — for example those 65 years of age or older and people of any age with serious comorbid health conditions such as chronic lung disease, diabetes, hypertension, chronic heart disease and cigarette smokers.”

Underwood said the clinic is advising patients to “take all known measures to prevent acquiring coronavirus,” which includes avoiding crowds and close contact with those who are ill, social distancing, washing their hands and regularly disinfecting surfaces.

“It is also important for patients to practice general health measures that form the foundation for wellness, such as exercise, sleep, healthy dietary habits and maintaining their social network — albeit remotely,” Underwood added, referencing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for patients with HIV.

Fortunately, Underwood said the majority of the clinic’s patients are virologically suppressed, meaning their risk can be more mitigated. She said the clinic has a viral suppression rate of 96%, which surpasses the National HIV/AIDS Strategy goal of 80%.

“The staff at the HIV Center of Excellence is working diligently with national, state and local partners on advocacy; ensuring our patients have ample supply of medications; exploring alternatives to reduce or postpone in-person visits; and various measures to optimize care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Underwood said. 

Here are some extra CDC recommendations for those with HIV: 

• Make sure to have at least a 30-day supply of HIV medicine and any other medications or medical supplies needed for managing HIV.

• Talk to your health care provider and make sure all your vaccinations are up-to-date, including vaccinations against seasonal influenza and bacterial pneumonia. These vaccine-preventable diseases also disproportionately affect people with HIV.

• Establish a plan for clinical care if you have to stay at home for a couple of weeks, and establish a telemedicine link through your HIV care provider’s online portal. If telemedicine is not available, communicate with your provider by phone or text.

• Try to maintain a social network remotely online, by phone or by video chat. This can help patients stay socially connected and mentally healthy, which is especially important for people with HIV. 

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