HIV Increases Risk of COVID Infection and Mortality

Man with red HIV ribbon on shirt. Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

New research shows that individuals living with HIV and AIDS have an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and death from COVID.

An estimated 38 million people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS, according to the World Health Organization, 7.5 million of whom are in South Africa, according to UNAIDS.

In their review, researchers at  Penn State College of Medicine found that people living with HIV had a 24% higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and a 78% higher risk of death from COVID than people without HIV. They analysed data from 22 prior studies with nearly 21 million participants in North America, Africa, Europe and Asia to determine to what extent people living with HIV/AIDS are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and death from COVID.

Participants were mostly male (66%) and the median age was 56. The most common comorbidities among the HIV-positive population were hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic kidney disease. Most patients (96%) were on antiretroviral therapy (ART).

“Previous studies were inconclusive on whether or not HIV is a risk factor for susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and poor outcomes in populations with COVID-19,” said Dr Paddy Ssentongo, lead researcher and assistant professor at the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering. “This is because a vast majority of people living with HIV/AIDS are on ART, some of which have been used experimentally to treat COVID-19.”

Pre-existing conditions common among people living with HIV/AIDS, may contribute to the severity of their COVID infections, noted the investigators. It remains inconclusive as to whether antiviral drugs, such as tenofovir and protease-inhibitors, reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and death from COVID in people with living with HIV/AIDS.

“As the pandemic has evolved, we’ve obtained sufficient information to characterize the epidemiology of HIV/SARS-CoV-2 coinfection, which could not be done at the beginning of the pandemic due to scarcity of data,” said Vernon Chinchilli, fellow researcher and chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences. “Our findings support the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to prioritize persons living with HIV to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Source: Penn State University

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