Coronavirus and HIV
As we move into a new phase in the coronavirus pandemic it’s important to note that the virus remains in circulation, but at much lower levels than at the height of the pandemic. Social distancing and general hygiene measures remain very important (if not more important) as social interaction starts to increase.
If you are worried about any aspect of the changes to lockdown measures, we’re here to support you and provide relevant information relating to HIV and coronavirus. There is also detailed HIV specific advice and guidance provided by the British HIV Association (BHIVA) website.
HIV and COVID-19 specific information
For the majority of people living with HIV it is safe to follow the updated guidance in relation to the easing of lockdown which came into force in England on 4th July, and that of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have different arrangements in place.
If you have been shielding because your CD4 cell count is less than 50, or you’ve had a recent serious HIV-related illness, or you are shielding because of a non-HIV health conditions BHIVA suggest you can continue to shield if you are physically and psychologically able to. We suggest you talk to your clinic teams who can provide further advice and support if you want to continue to shield at this time.
If you wish to follow the advice provided by the different Governments across the UK please remain super vigilant in maintaining social distancing, careful hand washing and avoiding any contact at all with people who have symptoms or are known to have COVID-19.
If you are admitted to hospital as a result of COVID-19 illness, it is strongly advised you share your HIV positive status with the hospital team looking after you. This will ensure the correct investigations, tests, treatment and care can be provided at all times.
You should continue to take medication for HIV as you usually would where this is physically possible. It’s important that the hospital team looking after your COVID-19 illness work very closely with your HIV Drs to ensure you remain stable from an HIV point of view.
The standard of care for COVID-19 patients experiencing severe illness has been updated to include the use of two COVID-19 approved drugs, remdesivir and dexamethasone. These treatments have been found to be effective for those experiencing severe illness, particularly those requiring additional support for their breathing. We think it’s important people living with HIV are aware of these particular treatments so they can ask those looking after them about their potential use.
There can be important drug interactions with the use of dexamethasone, particularly with combinations which contain rilpivirine (Eviplera, Odefsey, Juluca). It’s important to share information about your HIV treatment with the COVID-19 team looking after you and ask them to discuss your treatment and care with your HIV team.
HIV services update
The majority of routine in-clinic appointments continue to be replaced by telephone consultations for those who have well controlled HIV, where 6 monthly clinic visits are the norm. Some clinics are now restarting routine blood testing and where possible we suggest having bloods done before your telephone consultation.
In most clinics walk-in services continue to be suspended however more clinics are now able to offer advanced booked appointments. Clinic teams will continue to offer telephone triage and further support in the first instance and will always see newly diagnosed individuals and those who have complex health problems which require additional monitoring.
Changes to medication continue to be avoided unless clinically necessary as this reduces the need for additional clinic visits. Repeat medication requests can be made without the need to have blood taken. If you get your medication by home delivery this will continue as normal but may take a little longer to be delivered.
If you usually collect HIV medication from clinic or hospital pharmacy, you can still visit your clinic by appointment if you don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms. Your clinic will have suitable arrangements in place to get medications to you at home if you’re unable to attend in person.
Sexual health services
Walk-in services continue to be suspended, but this is being closely monitored by British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH). If you don’t have symptoms and where available, online testing services should be used. If you have symptoms, please contact your local clinic by telephone in the first instance. This also applies if you require emergency contraception, PEP or PrEP. Clinic teams will arrange for you to visit the clinic by appointment to access the appropriate service.
As lockdown eases, testing for HIV has never been more important in the fight to end new HIV diagnoses by 2030. Testing before becoming more sexually active will prevent new infections as HIV treatment can be offered should anyone receive a positive HIV diagnosis. You can check on how to get an online self-test or postal test HERE.
It’s important to stress that HIV and sexual health services continue to be available but are being provided in a different way during this time. If you’re unsure, please call your clinic or check their website or call THT Direct for further help in finding the most suitable service.
We have put together some useful links for online and telephone support services together with links to general coronavirus information pages.
Online and telephone support:
Plushealth online peer support
Plushealth FAQ sheet
Plushealth wellbeing information
MyHIV community forum
THT Direct 0808 802 1221 – lines are open Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm and 10am to 1pm Saturday & Sunday
HIV Scotland 0131 558 3713 – lines are open Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm
Further information & guidance
If you have worried because you have an underlying health condition, pregnant or are in a vulnerable group please seek additional advice via your GP or specialist healthcare services who look after any other health conditions you have. PLEASE don’t attend your HIV clinic, hospital outpatient department or GP surgery in person unless you have an appointment or been told to attend. appointment.
It’s important to note if you feel unwell with non-coronavirus symptoms you should call the 111 service and seek further help and advice.
Where there is an emergency such as suspected heart attack, stroke, severe problems with breathing where there is a risk to life please call 999. Please don’t delay getting emergency help when it’s needed.
Welcome to Plus health
Plus Health is a voluntary, not for profit, community project for people living with HIV, their partners, close family friends and carers. Providing FREE and confidential online peer support forms a central part of the way we work. We believe universal access to peer support is an essential part of HIV care in its wider sense. This is well recognised amongst health care professionals, support charities and community advocates alike. Using online technology people living with HIV have the opportunity to talk with a peer support volunteer who has authentic experience of life with HIV.
Plushealth peer support Here
Our website is arranged to mirror the individual journey we experience from initial diagnosis to older age, and everything in between. The information pages clearly set out the practical nuts and bolts information which is designed to improve knowledge and empower everyone living with HIV to enjoy healthy, long lived and fulfilling lives.
You can book FREE Skype or WhatsApp appointments online, which gives you the flexibility and convenience of arranging a peer support session that fits in with you. We recognise that privacy can be a barrier for some and working remotely can help overcome this. Your online appointments can be delivered using text, voice or video calls, which gives you flexibility and choice, so you remain in control of your privacy.