HIV and COVID-19 (coronavirus): Information for people living with HIV
What is Coronavirus – COVID-19?
COVID-19, is the name given to the infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, commonly referred to as Coronavirus. It can cause respiratory illness which in most cases will be mild to moderate and a full recovery is expected. In some cases, people may experience more serious illness and in a small number of cases, the illness can be life threatening.
The HSE has produced detailed information on COVID-19 including on the causes, symptoms, and how to protect yourself and others. For more information please click on the following links:
- Causes, symptoms
- How to protect yourself
- Restricted movement and self-isolation
- At-risk groups and cocooning
1. COVID-19 and HIV
I am living with HIV, am I more vulnerable to acquiring COVID-19?
There is currently no evidence that people living with HIV are at increased risk of acquiring COVID-19 due to their HIV status.
Am I more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19?
The HSE has listed a number at-risk groups including people with weakened immune systems. At present, people living with HIV who are on effective treatment are not included on this list. However, if you are living with HIV and not on effective treatment you may be at increased risk and should take steps to minimise the chances of acquiring COVID-19 based on current HSE advice. For more information on at-risk groups please click here.
If you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and you are concerned, you should phone your GP / healthcare provider for advice.
I have an undetectable viral load, am I more vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19?
There is currently very little information on the effects of COVID-19 on people living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load (virally supressed). More data is needed before we know the true impact, if any.
If you know or suspect that your immune system may be compromised (immunosuppressed) due to poor adherence to treatment, a viral load that is detectable, or any other reason, it is sensible to assume that you may be at increased risk from the effects of COVID-19. In these circumstances, you should take steps to minimise the chances of acquiring COVID-19 based on current HSE advice.
I am virally suppressed but I have an underlying condition. Am I at risk?
If you are living with HIV and meet one or more of the other criteria for at-risk groups (older age, heart or lung condition, diabetes, hypertension, etc) you may be at increased risk from the effects of COVID-19 regardless of viral suppression and/or treatment for HIV. In these circumstances, you should take steps to minimise the chances of acquiring COVID-19 based on current HSE advice.
I am unsure about my viral load or underlying conditions. What should I do?
If you are living with HIV and are unsure about your viral load count, adherence to medication, or whether you belong to another vulnerable category, you should take steps to minimise your chances of acquiring COVID-19 and seek medical advice. Your HIV doctor / healthcare provider can advise you on medication, viral suppression, and related health matters.
People living with HIV on treatment should continue to take medication as prescribed. If you are living with HIV and are not on medication, or adhere poorly to your medication regime, you should speak to your HIV doctor / healthcare provider about your treatment options to keep your immune system as strong as possible.
I have heard that some people have been advised to stay in-doors also known as cocooning. Does this apply to people living with HIV?
The HSE does not advise that people living with HIV should cocoon unless they have another underlying condition as set out in the HSE guidelines.
If you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or receive a diagnosis of COVID-19, you should isolate at home for 14 days from the date you first noticed symptoms with the last 5 days being without a fever.
If your symptoms worsen, such as difficulty with breathing, you should contact your GP / medical provider immediately and explain your symptoms.
If you do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and are not in isolation, you should continue to follow current HSE advice on staying home, maintaining physical distance, and restricting movement.
2. COVID-19 Vaccines
If you are living with HIV, you will be encouraged by your HIV clinic to avail of a COVID-19 19 vaccine. Vaccines teach your immune system how to protect you from diseases. It is much safer for your immune system to learn how to protect you from COVID-19 through vaccination than it is by acquiring the virus. It takes 7 days after the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for it to be effective.
We do not know yet how long immunity will last but there are ongoing clinical trials to find this out. The vast majority of people who get a vaccine will be protected from getting very sick and from having to be admitted into hospital with severe symptoms. Research shows vaccines work well in adults of any age.
There is no extra risk in getting a vaccine if you have a detectable viral load. However, the vaccine may not work as well.
Read HSE information on currently available vaccines.
Schedule of Vaccinations for People Living with HIV
The HSE has determined a vaccination schedule (by group) for the Irish public.
- People living with HIV who are 70 years old or older will be in Group 3
- People living with HIV who are 65-69 year old will be in Group 5
- People living with HIV who are 16-64 years old will be in Group 7
Please note: Immunosuppressed people (those whose viral load is detectable) are considered at high risk of serious COVID-19 illnesses and will be in Group 4. People who are living with HIV who also have a serious underlying health condition will also be in Group 4.
Read HSE information on COVID-19 and Weakened Immune Systems/Risk Groups.
Read more about the HSE Vaccination Schedule.
3. Information and Advice
What information should I read and whose advice should I follow?
With so much information about COVID-19 and the potential impact on people living with HIV, particularly information sourced online and through social media, it can be difficult to know which source of information is reliable. Information that comes from other jurisdictions may be more relevant to the healthcare system in that country and may not be relevant for you.
People living with HIV in Ireland should rely on trusted sources of information including their GP / medical provider, the HSE, Government information on COVID-19, NGOs, and other civil society organisations supporting people living with HIV.
4. COVID-19 and Sex
Can I acquire COVID-19 through having sex?
COVID-19 is not a sexually transmitted infection. However, it is possible to acquire COVID-19 from kissing and/or close contact with another person. The HSE has published information on Sex and COVID-19 which is available to view here.
If you or your partner are not feeling well and have symptoms of COVID-19, e.g. fever, cough, or shortness of breath, you should avoid sex and especially kissing.
If you or your partner develop symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath you should self-isolate and phone your GP / medical provider for further advice.
Information on sexual health for gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men (gbMSM) is available to view here.
To view information and advice on COVID-19 and Sex by the Gay Health Network please click here.
5. HIV Clinics
Are HIV clinics still operating?
Yes, however some clinics are closed to new appointments and are rescheduling existing appointments. Many HIV clinic staff including infectious disease specialists, nurses, and administrative staff are currently working on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you are due to attend a clinic you will be contacted in relation to your appointment and / or the collection of medication. If you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 please do not attend and contact the clinic by phone.
If you telephone your clinic and receive a recorded message, you should leave a voice message with your name, your contact number, and your hospital number (if you know it) so that the clinic staff can contact you.
My clinic cancelled my appointment and I have not been given a new appointment date. What should I do?
If your clinic has postponed or cancelled your appointment, you should receive a new appointment date in due course. If you do not receive an appointment date, and you require one, you should contact the clinic.
If you require an urgent appointment, you should contact the clinic and explain.
I am newly diagnosed with HIV. What should I do?
If you are newly diagnosed with HIV and you are unsure what to do or need additional support, please contact your GP / healthcare provider. You can also contact HIV Ireland Community Support on Tel: 01 8733799 or email email@example.com.
I need to renew my medication. What should I do?
If you are currently a patient with a HIV clinic, they will contact you to arrange to collect your medication and to arrange a new appointment. Some clinics may arrange to send your medication by post. You should check with your clinic.
If you have not visited a HIV clinic in Ireland before, you should contact your nearest HIV clinic to arrange an appointment or contact your GP. For additional information and advice you can contact the HIV Ireland Community Support Team on Tel: 01 8733799 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What should I do if my medication supply is running low?
Continuing to take to your medication as prescribed by your clinic is extremely important. If your supply of medication is coming to an end, you should contact your clinic to arrange for collection of new medication. If, for any reason, you cannot contact your clinic, please contact your GP / healthcare provider.
Should I get vaccinated?
People living with HIV should ensure they are up to date with vaccinations including influenza and pneumococcal vaccines. Vaccines are available from your GP and / or local pharmacy.
Can antiretroviral treatment (ART) medication be used to combat COVID-19?
There is currently no evidence to suggest that ART medication is an effective treatment against COVID-19. People living with HIV should not consider using ART medication as a treatment for COVID-19 nor share their medication with others, including someone with COVID-19.
7. Public STI Services
Many public STI testing services are temporarily closing. Where can I access services?
While there continue to be some restrictions to public sexual health services, there are services available. Check out the current availability of public sexual health services. If you have symptoms and require STI testing, contact your local clinic or your GP for advice.
8. Fear and Anxiety
Talk of COVID-19 is making me anxious. What can I do?
For many people living with HIV, the recent global outbreak of COVID-19 may induce a heightened sense of fear, stress and/or anxiety. People may be working through feelings relating to their HIV status or be worried about the impact of COVID-19 on their health. The blanket media coverage and strict public health measures may also cause negative thoughts or anxiety relating to vulnerability, safety, or the safety and wellbeing of loved ones.
Feelings of fear, stress or anxiety are perfectly reasonable reactions to the current situation. Many people share these feelings. At this time, it may be helpful to confide in someone you trust. Maintaining contact with friends and family not in your household by telephone, email, or social media can be helpful. Counsellors and support workers can offer welcome support and advice on strategies to cope with anxiety. If you would like to speak to a member of the Community Support team at HIV Ireland, please call 01 8733799 or email email@example.com
9. Information and Support for People living with HIV.
HIV Ireland continues to offer community support and outreach services for people living with HIV. You can contact the HIV Ireland Community Support Team on 01 8733799 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Positive Now – All Ireland Network
If you would like to speak to someone living with HIV for support or information you can contact Positive Now Tel: 089 418 8533 or email email@example.com.