An HIV patient has tested positive for Covid-19 for the first time in Bengaluru, and doctors are closely monitoring how he responds to prevailing treatment protocols.
The Bengalurean was taken to a hospital with influenza-like illness and was found to be infected with Covid-19. He’s suffering from pneumonia too. Housed in the ICU of a designated hospital for three days now, he has been treated with high flow nasal oxygen to assist breathing.
“We have seen many patients with co-morbidities. But this is the first time in Bengaluru that a patient immunocompromised with HIV has tested positive for Covid-19,” said doctors at the hospital. “He has pneumonia and suffered from tuberculosis in the past. With multiple complexities, the viral load would be high and disease progression could be faster. We have to closely watch the patient’s condition,” they added.
The contact-tracing team from the health and family welfare department which met the man’s relatives found out he earlier suffered from alcoholism.
Dr Glory Alexander, director, ASHA foundation and HIV/AIDS specialist, said persons living with HIV (PLHIV) are more vulnerable to Covid-19 than the general population only if they’re not on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and if their CD4 count is not within 500-1,500 cells per cubic millimetre of blood. CD4 are immune T cells that are under attack in HIV patients. CD4 count is a prognostic indicator and a higher number indicates a stronger immune system.
“Hence, it’s very important for HIV patients to ensure they don’t miss taking ART drugs and maintain CD4 count. Recovery in case of a Covid-positive HIV patient will be like any other patient if s/he is on ART and CD4 count is within the desired limit. However, HIV patients who don’t take ART drugs regularly will be vulnerable as they are already immunocompromised,” she explained.
According to Dr Alexander, a person living with HIV in Kerala had tested positive for Covid-19 and recovered well. As per the 2018-19 annual report of National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), there are 2.5 lakh HIV patients in Karnataka.
Though efforts were made by the government and several NGOs to ensure HIV patients had access to ART drugs during the lockdown, there are chances that those living in remote areas may have missed out on the medicines, say doctors. “Such persons must contact the nearest ART centre and return to their treatment regime as they are susceptible to Covid-19,” said a senior doctor from the health department.