Individuals With HIV/AIDS at Higher Risk of SARS-CoV-2 Infection, Death From COVID-19

Skylar Kenney, Assistant Editor

Certain pre-existing conditions are common among people living with HIV/AIDS, which may contribute to the severity of their COVID-19 cases.

According to a study published in Scientific Reports, individuals living with HIV and AIDS have an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and fatal outcomes from COVID-19. This patient population consists of an estimated 38 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

The researchers assessed data from 22 previous studies that included nearly 21 million participants in North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia to determine the extent to which people living with HIV/AIDS are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and death from COVID-19. They 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-19 than people without HIV.

The majority of study participants were male and the median age was 56 years. The most common comorbidities among the HIV-positive population were hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic kidney disease. The majority of patients living with HIV/AIDS (96%) were on antiretroviral therapy (ART), which helps suppress the amount of HIV detected in the body.

“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 Paddy Ssentongo, MD, MPH, PhD, lead researcher and assistant professor at the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering, in a press release. “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.”

According to the study authors, certain pre-existing conditions are common among people living with HIV/AIDS, which may contribute to the severity of their COVID-19 cases. The beneficial effects of antiviral drugs, such as tenofovir and protease-inhibitors, in reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and death from COVID-19 in people with living with HIV/AIDS remain inconclusive.

“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, PhD, fellow researcher and chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences, in the release. “Our findings support the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to prioritize persons living with HIV to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”

REFERENCE

People living with HIV more likely to get sick with, die from COVID-19 [news release]. EurekAlert; May 11, 2021. Accessed May 12, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-05/ps-plw051121.php