Health and Wellness

HIV medications may lower the risk of COVID & getting severe coronavirus symptoms

Pills on a background that says "HIV/AIDS"
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A new study of nearly 78,000 HIV-positive people with COVID-19 has shown that antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications can lower a person’s risk of getting coronavirus. If they get it, the medications may lower the chance that they’ll have severe symptoms or die.

Researchers suspect it may be because ART meds – prescribed to manage HIV – generally prevent viruses from replicating within the body.

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Researchers found that only 0.3 percent of the people they studied had contracted a confirmed case of coronavirus. Among these 236 individuals, 151 needed hospitalization, 15 needed admission into an intensive care unit (ICU) care, and 20 died.

When adjusted for factors like age and gender, this showed that people living with HIV who were taking ART meds had “the lowest risk for a COVID-19–related hospitalization.”

Overall, researchers found that people with HIV who were taking tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) and emtricitabine (FTC) were far less likely to be hospitalized or placed in the ICU when compared to other HIV-positive people taking different ART medications.

Researchers think this might be because the small molecular size of tenofovir diphosphate, an active chemical in TDF, “fits better in the active site” of cells where coronavirus would usually attach and begin to replicate itself. The drugs essentially block off this cellular pathway, leaving the coronavirus unable to proliferate in the body.

“Compared with the general population, this risk for COVID-19 diagnosis was lower among persons with HIV: 30.0 vs 41.7 per 10,000 persons,” the study’s authors’ wrote. All the same, everyone should still take precautions, like face masks and social distancing, to avoid spreading COVID-19.

While people with compromised immune systems are generally more susceptible to contracting and dying from COVID-19, on April 23, 2020, Monica Gandhi — medical director of Ward 86, the HIV clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital — said that people living with HIV don’t seem more likely than the general population to contract coronavirus or to become seriously ill from it.

Gandhi said however that the compromised immune systems of people living with HIV may inhibit their bodies from creating COVID-19 antibodies for a while after they contract the disease. Scientists are still studying how well coronavirus antibodies can prevent people from becoming re-infected.

The study, which was led by Plan Nacional sobre el Sida (the Spanish National AIDS Plan) and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, examined 77,590 people with HIV living in Spain for a 75-day period from February 1 to April 15.

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