The science of COVID-19: HIV and COVID-19

Dr Mallika Mootoo, MD
Pediatrician/ HIV Clinician
St. Joseph Mercy Hospital

HIV and COVID-19
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus which causes HIV infection. The abbreviation “HIV” can refer to the virus or to HIV infection. The virus targets a person’s immune system and attacks and eventually destroys the infection -fighting CD4 cells. As more and more CD4 cells are destroyed the immune system becomes weakened, making it difficult for the body to fight off infections and certain cancers. Without treatment, HIV can gradually destroy the immune system and lead to AIDS.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
HIV is transmitted through contact with HIV infected bodily fluids. It is spread mainly by having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV, sharing a needle with an HIV infected person and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery and/or breast feeding.
HIV infection is a lifelong disease for which there is still no cure. There is, however, effective anti-HIV medication which when taken correctly, allow people with HIV to live long and healthy lives.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the use of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines every day.
ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. ART prevents HIV from multiplying, which reduces the amount of HIV in the body (called the viral load). Having less HIV in the body protects the immune system and prevents HIV infection from advancing to AIDS. ART can’t cure HIV, but HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission. A main goal of ART is to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a viral load test. People with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partner through sex.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. The World Health Organisation (WHO) first learned of this new virus on 31 December 2019, following a report of a cluster of cases of ‘viral pneumonia’ in Wuhan, People’s Republic of China. In March 2020 the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air, and quickly fall on floors or surfaces.