How are HIV/AIDS and Other High-Risk Populations Avoiding Coronavirus?


(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A worker wearing a mask looks out a window of the Shuksan Healthcare Center in Bellingham, Wash., Monday, March 23, 2020.

The novel coronavirus doesn’t seem to be discriminating against who it affects. But are there groups that are at higher risk of infection than others? 

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The Center For Disease Control is careful to say that older folks, those with underlying medical conditions and those living with HIV/AIDS might be at higher risk of getting the virus. 

"It's based on who is most likely to get the disease," said Brian Labus, an assistant professor at UNLV's School of Public Health. "And if they do get the disease, [it's] who is most likely to have a serious complication or die. That's based on the presence of underlying conditions. The kind of things that make it tough for your immune system to fight things off."

For instance, someone on chemotherapy for cancer, or someone taking certain medications or someone with diabetes, are more at risk. Older people are more at risk simply because our immune systems weaken as we age.

People with asthma or those who smoke are also at higher risk, Labus said.

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"This is a respiratory illness that affects the lungs," he said, "Anytime you have physical damage to the lung, which is what you get from smoking or problems you see with the inflammation from asthma or other underlying lung problems, it's going to be tougher for your body to deal with something that gets in there."

He said anyone with those issues is going to have a problem fighting off a lot of different kinds of respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19

And then there’s those with compromised immune systems like people with HIV/AIDS. 

There’s no evidence yet they are directly affected by the virus, but concerns abound since those with suppressed immune systems can be affected by other viral respiratory illnesses. 

Labus said even without an outbreak of a potentially deadly virus, HIV/AIDS patients need to practice social distancing to stay healthy during flu and cold season, depending on how compromised their immune systems are. 

Gary Costa, the executive director for Golden Rainbow, which helps people with HIV/AIDS in Southern Nevada, said the people his group works with are very concerned about the spreading virus.

Besides concerns about their own health, some have heard rumors that the anti-viral medications used to treat HIV/AIDS can be used to treat the coronavirus and that people will start hoarding the drugs, making them unavailable to them.
"There is no truth to that rumor," Costa said, "They're talking about using these types of medications in trials but there's no reason to panic yet."
Costa said what they're telling patients is that their best defense is to keep taking their medications.
"We do know that people with compromised immune systems due to HIV [who] take their anti-retroviral therapies their immune systems are pretty much healthy," he said, "And people who are on those therapies tend to see their doctors on a more regular basis. So we tend to think of ourselves as a little healthier than the average American adult."
Costa said Golden Rainbow is working with all their community partners, including the Southern Nevada Health District and Aid for AIDS of Nevada, to keep a watchful eye on HIV/AIDS patients to make sure they're taking their medications and seeing the doctor regularly.
He said, so far, no one in that section of the population in Southern Nevada has come down with the virus. 

Brian Labus, assistant professor, UNLV School of Public Health; Gary Costa, executive director, Golden Rainbow

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