The coronavirus is a human problem. Gay, straight, transgender, or queer -- the pandemic has a grip on everyone’s daily lives in New England and far beyond. As Rhode Island Governor Raimondo bans all large public gatherings and shuts down local businesses, the community that we value for connection and prosperity is realizing just how fragile our society is.
While the state and the country work to close-off the spread of COVID-19, there are some nuanced health concerns that the LGBTQ community faces, leaving many wondering, “How at-risk are HIV positive individuals? And what if they have normal CD4 counts and undetectable viral loads?”
The CD4 count is a surrogate of data that indicates immune system health. The viral load is how active the HIV virus is in your bloodstream. The short answer, we just don’t know.
Dr. Philip Chan from Open Door Health comments, “At this time, there is limited data on people living with HIV and COVID-19 infection. We believe that people with normal CD4 cell counts likely have the same risk of infection and complications as people without HIV. People with lower CD4 cell counts may be at higher risk of complications. However, there is limited data to support this. People with HIV who are older (60+ years of age) will also be at increased risk of complications due to their age which is similar to people without HIV in this group.”
In theory, normal CD4 counts would indicate an immune system that is up and running appropriately, but at this time there’s no way of determining a relative risk for these individuals. Dr. Chan offers some great information, and lends to the advice that anyone with any type of chink in their immune system chain should be extremely cautious. Likewise, if you know of someone who fits in this category, but you yourself don’t, then you should practice high-level safety precautions when you’re with these individuals.
There’s a piece of advice I heard on the news that is worth sharing: PRETEND THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE CORONAVIRUS. Think about it. If you think you already have it, you’ll be more cognizant of what you touch, who you interact with, and how you go about your daily life. Keep yourself accountable for proper hygiene practices and the rest of the public will benefit.
The virus, the news -- it’s all quite scary. Please, get your information from credible sources, and use this time to educate yourself on public health concerns. Historically, LGBTQ individuals are known to come together and rally for a cause. Consider this another opportunity to rally against a foe, albeit a microscopic one this time. Let’s all do our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19!
Jonathan Lucero McKinney is a clinical consultant and medical writer passionate about public health education. He lives with his boyfriend in Providence.