People living with HIV who are admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 are no more likely to die than those without HIV, an analysis conducted in New York City shows. This is despite the fact that comorbidities associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes were more common in the HIV group.
“We don’t see any signs that people with HIV should take extra precautions” to protect themselves from COVID-19, said Keith Sigel, MD, associate professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and the lead researcher on the study, published online June 28 in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
“We still don’t have a great explanation for why we’re seeing what we’re seeing,” he added. “But we’re glad we’re seeing it.”
The findings have changed how Dr. Sigel talks to his patients with HIV about protecting themselves from COVID-19. Some patients have so curtailed their behavior for fear of acquiring COVID-19 that they aren’t buying groceries or attending needed medical appointments. With these data, Dr. Sigel said he’s comfortable telling his patients, “COVID-19 is bad all by itself, but you don’t need to go crazy. Wear a mask, practice appropriate social distancing and hygiene, but your risk doesn’t appear to be greater.”
The findings conform with those on the lack of association between HIV and COVID-19 severity seen in a cohort study from Spain, a case study from China, and case series from New Jersey, New York City, and Spain.
One of the only regions reporting something different so far is South Africa. There, HIV is the third most common comorbidity associated with death from COVID-19, according to a cohort analysis conducted in the province of Western Cape.
Along with data from HIV prevention and treatment trials, the conference will feature updates on where the world stands in the control of HIV during the COVID-19 pandemic. And for an even more focused look, the IAS COVID-19 Conference will immediately follow that meeting.
The New York City cohort
For their study, Dr. Sigel and colleagues examined the 4402 COVID-19 cases at the Mount Sinai Health System’s five hospitals between March 12 and April 23.
They found 88 people with COVID-19 whose charts showed codes indicating they were living with HIV. All 88 were receiving treatment, and 81% of them had undetectable viral loads documented at COVID admission or in the 12 months prior to admission.
The median age was 61 years, and 40% of the cohort was black and 30% was Hispanic.
Patients in the comparison group – 405 people without HIV from the Veterans Aging Cohort Study who had been admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 – were matched in terms of age, race, and stage of COVID-19.
The study had an 80% power to detect a 15% increase in the absolute risk for death in people with COVID-19, with or without HIV.
Patients with HIV were almost three times as likely to have smoked and were more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cirrhosis, and a history of cancer.
“This was a group of patients that one might suspect would do worse,” Dr. Sigel said. And yet, “we didn’t see any difference in deaths. We didn’t see any difference in respiratory failure.”
In fact, people with HIV required mechanical ventilation less often than those without HIV (18% vs. 23%). And when it came to mortality, one in five people died from COVID-19 during follow-up whether they had HIV or not (21% vs. 20%).
The only factor associated with significantly worse outcomes was a history of organ transplantation, “suggesting that non-HIV causes of immunodeficiency may be more prominent risks for severe outcomes,” Dr. Sigel and colleagues explained.