COVID-19 is a potentially serious disease that can cause severe illness in some individuals. Therefore, people living with HIV, particularly those who are older or have lower CD4 counts, should take extra precautions to protect themselves from contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease.

HIV destroys white blood cells that help fight infections. People with HIV, particularly those without appropriate strategies to control the virus, have an increased risk of developing all types of infections and serious illnesses if they contract SARS-CoV-2.

Scientists are still learning about the interaction between HIV and COVID-19. The current data suggest that coronavirus affects people with HIV differently. While not everyone will develop severe illness, the risk factors vary greatly, especially for people with coexisting conditions.

Continue reading to find out more about the relationship between COVID-19 and HIV.

Coronavirus data

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on COVID-19.

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If someone with HIV has yet to achieve viral suppression through antiretroviral treatment (ART), they may have a weakened immune system. This can mean an increased risk of developing opportunistic infections due to the following germs:

  • bacteria
  • parasites
  • fungi
  • viruses

Opportunistic infections occur when germs take advantage of issues with a person’s immune system, grow in numbers, and cause symptoms. Although opportunistic infections include viral infections, there is no clinical evidence that people with HIV are more likely to develop COVID-19 than those without HIV.

However, individuals with HIV are more likely to develop a severe, life threatening condition if they contract SARS-CoV-2. The risk is 38% greater than in people without HIV. This is the case with certain populations only, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighting that severe COVID-19 illness for those with HIV is more likely if they:

  • are older
  • have lower CD4 cell counts
  • have an ineffective HIV treatment regimen

COVID-19 symptoms are similar in people with or without HIV. They can include:

  • cough
  • fever
  • chills
  • breathing problems
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • headache
  • loss of taste
  • loss of smell
  • sore throat
  • congestion or runny nose
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Coughing and fever are the most common symptoms of COVID-19.

People with HIV may have longer periods of fever, and it takes longer for the lungs to recover from the effects of COVID-19. This may be due to a delayed SARS-CoV-2-specific antibody response by the body’s immune system, which can slow the lung healing process.

The best way for people with HIV to protect themselves from COVID-19 is to practice preventive measures. These can include:

  • maintaining good hygiene, for example, handwashing regularly and thoroughly
  • avoiding large gatherings
  • wearing a cloth face mask while in public spaces
  • staying away from individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19

People should also stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines. Experts recommend vaccines for everyone with HIV, regardless of their CD4 count or viral load. The number of necessary doses can depend on a person’s age and the vaccine type.

Are vaccine boosters necessary?

Everyone, including people with HIV, should receive a booster shot if they are eligible. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 5 years get one updated (bivalent) booster if it is more than 2 months since their last dose.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people living with HIV. There is no evidence that they interfere with ART or preexposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV.

If someone with HIV tests positive for COVID-19 or experiences any related symptoms, they should contact a doctor as soon as possible. They may be eligible for COVID-19 treatment or preventive medicines that can reduce the risk of severe illness.

Treatment must begin within the first few days of infection to be effective. It is important to note that some treatments can interfere with ART. However, doctors know of no interactions between ART and COVID-19 prevention medication, such as Evusheld.

People should also contact their doctor if they have had exposure to someone with COVID-19 or develop other symptoms related to their HIV.

Individuals with HIV need to remain up to date on all treatments, vaccinations, and preventive measures.

HIV affects the immune system and increases a person’s risk of infections. As yet, there is no clinical evidence that people with HIV have an increased risk of developing COVID-19 compared with those without HIV. However, they are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the virus.

Therefore, people with HIV must take extra precautions against COVID-19. These include regular handwashing, avoiding large gatherings, and wearing a face mask in public spaces. In addition, vaccines are available and recommended for everyone with HIV, regardless of their CD4 count or viral load.

If someone with HIV tests positive for COVID-19, they should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible for treatment or preventive medication if eligible.