Low immunity linked to poor outcomes in HIV patients who contract COVID-19

Justin Kelley

Patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are susceptible to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and certain factors increase the risk of hospitalization and death, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Dima Dandachi, MD, principal investigator and assistant professor of clinical medicine, examined data that included 286 adult patients with HIV who were diagnosed with COVID-19 across 36 institutions in 21 states. Within 30 days of COVID-19 diagnosis, 57 percent of the patients required hospitalization, 16 percent required intensive care unit (ICU) admission and 9 percent did not survive. In the study, more than 94 percent of patients were actively taking HIV medication.

The researchers found that patients with HIV who are actively taking medication are just as susceptible to COVID-19 as the general public. Additionally, those with low immunity uncontrolled HIV or newly diagnosed HIV are at a higher risk of hospitalization or death.

“The key message for these patients is to take precautions against contracting the virus while ensuring they are compliant with their HIV medications to raise their immune cell count as high as possible,” Dandachi said in a statement.

The research team also found people with HIV older than 60 and those with chronic health issues also had a much higher risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19. They found that lung disease, kidney disease, hypertension, and older age were associated with higher hospitalization rates, higher ICU admissions, and increased mortality from COVID-19.

Dandachi said she will use this study to counsel her patients to best protect themselves against COVID-19 while also using it as proof that this patient population should be among the first considered for protection once a vaccine is developed.

"When we have vaccines, our goal is to identify the most vulnerable populations," Dandachi said in a statement. "Patients with HIV should be a priority target when we are looking at any measure that could improve outcomes for patients at high risk for complications with COVID-19."

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.