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COVID-19 Information

There is a lot of discussion about the illness COVID-19 and some of it is confusing. This fact sheet answers questions and shares tips and referrals for our HIV and LGBTIQ communities.

To help you learn more about COVID-19 as new information is being released, NAPWHA initially collaborated with Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) and Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) to produce a factsheet, now transferred to this webpage with regularly updated information.

The infographic above is reproduced from a ‘Poslink’ article published by Living Positive Victoria on 27 July 2020. ‘Living through a new pandemic‘ is an article reflecting on the fast-changing nature of the COVID-19 response, written by Ross Duffin (long-term consumer advocate and PLHIV). See also: COVID-19, vaccines, treatment and people with HIV published in Positive Living on 15 June 2020.   

This page was last updated on 27 July 2020.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus. People with COVID-19 may not have symptoms but can still pass the virus on. Symptoms can range from a very mild illness to severe pneumonia. People with COVID-19 may experience fever and flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath. Some people will recover quickly and easily, and others may get very sick very quickly.

I need COVID-19 explained in my own language

Access latest news and information about coronavirus (COVID-19) developments available in 63 languages from the SBS website.

Who in our communities are at risk?

While everyone is at risk of contracting COVID-19, the consequences of infection are more severe for some vulnerable groups. This includes people living with HIV who are:

  • Aged over 60 years old
  • Living with a detectable viral load
  • Diabetic
  • Smokers
  • Living with a co-morbidity such as heart or lung issues

Those people living with HIV (PLHIV) on treatment with an undetectable viral load (and no other significant health condition) are at no greater risk of serious health consequences due to COVID-19 than the general population. That being said, they should still be exercising precautions such as hand-washing, working from home where possible, limiting time on public transport, and avoiding large groups or crowded areas. Those people living with HIV who fall into one of the vulnerable groups listed above should limit contact with others to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19.

How worried should I be?

COVID-19 is a serious health issue but there is no need for panic. Australia has a strong health system and our public health officials are world-class. You can trust their advice. Taking a few simple steps and doing a little planning can help you look after yourself and others.

How do I protect myself and others?

Washing your hands and being careful with coughing and sneezing is the best defence against most coronaviruses:

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
Do this for at least 20 seconds. Alternatively use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, before and after eating, after going to the toilet and after coughing or sneezing.

 

Avoid touching your face
Particularly your nose, mouth and eyes.

 

Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
Put used tissues straight into the bin. You do not need to wear a face mask unless you develop symptoms of COVID-19.

 

Follow physical distancing restrictions now in place
The more space between you and others, the harder it is for the virus to spread. This means you need to avoid contact with others (touching, kissing, hugging and other intimate contact). Stay 1.5 metres away from other people. Stay at home unless is absolutely necessary.

Update: Since 29 March 2020, the latest Australian government guidelines further limits most indoor and outdoor non-essential gatherings to 2 people. Rules on essential gatherings are also in place. Find out what limits apply

I may have symptoms. What can I do to check?

Health Direct have also developed a COVID-19 Symptom Checker – an online, self-guided tool to help people find out if they need to seek medical help. You can access this tool by clicking on the button below.

COVID-19

Where could I seek medical advice 24/7?

Two free telephone hotlines are available operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer questions about health issues:

Call Health Direct for medical advice on 1800 022 222
You can speak directly to a nurse over the phone who may step you through a Healthdirect online tool to answer questions about your symptoms and to see if you need to seek medical help. They can also advise you on where to get tested from a doctor or hospital if need be.

 

Call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080
If you are sick and think you have symptoms of COVID-19, this National Coronavirus Helpline has been set-up for medical advice.

How is COVID-19 transmitted?

COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with droplets that contain a new coronavirus. This can happen through the air, for example, when someone coughs or sneezes, or through contact with surfaces that have the new coronavirus on them.

It can be helpful to visualise this. If a person has COVID-19, they might touch a surface and leave virus droplets on it. Another person touching that surface may then pick the droplets up on their hands and then touch their mouth, leading to infection.

This is why washing your hands is important, especially after touching surfaces and other people who might have COVID-19. It’s also why it is recommended to avoid touching your face.

Read more:  We know how long coronavirus survives on surfaces. Here’s what it means for handling money, food and more

 

Where should I go for up-to-date information?

The Australian Government is updating its advice on COVID-19 frequently. That advice is based on evidence and the best analysis from our public health officials. They have various information channels:

  1. Visit the Australian Government Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert webpage
  2. Subscribe to the Australian Government Department of Health Facebook page
  3. Subscribe to the Australian Government Department of Health Twitter page
  4. Subscribe to the Australian Government Department of Health WhatsApp message service from your Smartphone
  5. Download the Coronavirus Australia app in the Apple App Store (for iPhones) or Google Play (for Android phones)

For COVID-19 advice for Australians living, studying or working overseas, there is up-to-date advice on the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website.

Please be careful with social media, online media and word-of-mouth. There is a lot of anxiety and misinformation at the moment. For those who are particularly worried, this can add to stress. Each of us has a role to play in being accurately informed and pointing our friends to trusted advice.

The Australian Government’s ‘Coronavirus Alert’ app is available for download

 

I am taking anti-viral medications – will they protect me from COVID-19?​

Researchers are working to find an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19. There have been reports of a few HIV drugs being trialled as treatment for COVID-19. There is no reliably confirmed evidence at this stage that any HIV drugs are effective in treating COVID-19. Being on anti-viral medication for HIV (including PrEP), hepatitis C or hepatitis B, has not be shown to provide protection from COVID-19.

More reading via The Body (22 May 2020):  HIV Drugs in Clinical Trials to Treat COVID-19—What You Need to Know

Is there a risk pharmacies will run out of medications, including HIV medication?

The pharmaceutical companies who provide antiretroviral medications in Australia would like to reassure people living with HIV (PLHIV) that there are still healthy supplies of HIV treatments in the country. What’s more, they do not anticipate any disruption to supply in the near future.

PLHIV are encouraged to keep ordering their medications as usual and to keep taking them as prescribed.  People with HIV should not skip doses or share medication with friends who are worried about their own supply.

If you are living with HIV and are concerned, it is recommended to:

  • Importantly keep taking your HIV treatments as prescribed and not to reduce doses.
  • Maintain regularly scheduled medical appointments, but consider asking your doctor about tele-health consultations.
  • Ensure you have between 1-3 month supply of any medications (including HIV medication) you currently take to accommodate a need to self-isolate, or delays in supply. This is also the case for people with other health conditions.
  • Avoid stockpiling medications beyond a 1-3 month supply as this could cause unnecessary shortages.
  • There is no need to stockpile over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol or Ibuprofen. Only buy what you need.
  • Be wary of advice or articles in social media — do not modify the medications you currently take or begin taking new medications without first consulting your doctor.

Gilead is providing free postage of medications

In order to avoid going out, PLHIV can now have their HIV treatments posted to them at home by asking their doctor to forward scripts directly to the pharmacy (by email or fax).

Most pharmacies are dispensing the full script (4 or 6 months worth) but only providing 2 months supply at first, and then posting the next lot out at the appropriate time.  A few pharmacies are only dispensing one month’s supply at first, but also providing the rest by post.

PLHIV are encouraged to request this postal service if it isn’t offered. Any pharmacist can access free prepaid post bags by contacting Gilead Sciences in their Melbourne offices on 03 9272 4400.

Related reading:  Managing community concerns about ARV supply

Where can I get support if I am a tourist, Medicare ineligible person with HIV during the COVID-19 shutdown in Australia?

ViiV Healthcare and Gilead Sciences have expanded compassionate access for PLHIV stuck in Australia. There are many PLHIV who are residents in Australia but are not eligible for a Medicare card and so are unable to access subsidised HIV treatments through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Some of these PLHIV are on Temporary Visas and return to their home countries regularly to fill their HIV prescriptions. But this is impossible at the moment. Which is why Australian pharmaceutical companies have expanded their Compassionate Access Schemes to allow people who are stuck in the country to get access to HIV treatments.

PLHIV in this situation are encouraged to talk to any GP who specialises in HIV (an HIV s100 prescriber) or any doctor at a Sexual Health Clinic. The doctor will contact the relevant pharmaceutical company who supplies the particular treatment and, if approved, will provide them with two months supply free of charge.

Video: Dr George Forgan-Smith’s message is that if you are running low, please see a HIV specialist doctor or your local sexual health service and we can help ensure you don’t run out of your medications.

My income has dropped during the COVID-19 crisis. Could I get support if I am still paying full price co-payments for HIV medication?

For people living with HIV whose income has dropped during the COVID-19 crisis, and who are still paying full price co-payments for HIV medications—NAPWHA can assist with a one-off payment to cover a four-months’ supply. See more information

Is there any advice for people who smoke?

There are some indications smokers may be more at risk of acquiring COVID-19 and early studies suggest smokers who get COVID-19 are a lot more likely to become ill. It’s important to remember stopping smoking has many health benefits, even beyond a link with COVID-19, so it’s always a good time to quit. If you smoke and are considering stopping, Quitline – the stop-smoking website and service – is available to offer advice and support. Quit Specialists are trained to listen carefully to you to help meet your needs.

Go to the website www.quit.org.au or 13 78 48. Alternatively SMS text ‘call back’ to 13 78 48 to book a time for Quit to call you

Should I get the Flu vaccine?

It’s a very good idea to get the influenza (flu) vaccine. This is even more the case as the number of people with COVID-19 grows. It will become available in Australia in April 2020. Although the influenza virus and COVID-19 are very different from each other they can cause a similar illness, and it is good to avoid having both viruses together, or one after the other. The flu vaccine provides good protection against influenza and is recommended each year for all people living with HIV.

Find out more about the Australian influenza immunisation service by visiting the Department of Health website. Alternatively, call the National Immunisation Hotline on 1800 671 811 to find a provider near you.

If I get infected with COVID-19, can I get it again?

At the moment it isn’t known whether people may be reinfected with COVID-19. There have been some newspaper reports of a very small number of people being reinfected, but these reports haven’t yet been confirmed. It seems likely that most people who get COVID-19 will be immune from reinfection for some time.

Should I stock up on groceries and household items?

If there is a large increase in the number of people with COVID-19 in the community, it will make sense to limit time in public areas such as shops. You will also need to stay at home if you develop symptoms. To prepare for this it is sensible to consider having more non-perishable food and supplies at home than usual. The current guidance is to have around two weeks’ supply of basic food and household goods if possible.

It’s important not to panic buy. Consider what you would really need if you had to stay home for two weeks and think about buying a few extra things over a number of visits to the shops.

This will be more difficult for people on low incomes. If you are concerned about your current employment, talk with your employer, workplace health and safety representative or union. If you are no longer working due to the imposed lockdown, you may be eligible for support through Centrelink. If you receive NDIS, Aged Care Services or Centrelink payments, you can contact your provider for support.

What are Australia’s strict new social distancing rules? A state-by-state guideline explained

State and territory governments have different restrictions in place for public gatherings. Please visit your state or territory website for more information.

What about sex and intimacy during COVID-19 lockdown?

Given the need for social distancing and avoiding contact with others to prevent transmission of COVID-19, LGBTI and HIV organisations are encouraging their communities not to have casual sex at this time (in line with information that has been provided to the general population).

For more information about this, and alternative suggestions for sexual connections, Thorne Harbour Health have more information on their website here and created a handy info sheet, and ACON (in NSW) have developed this resource and health promotion video (below).

How to stay in touch in with PLHIV organisations

Continue staying in touch with community organisations that support people living with HIV in your Australian State or Territory. Although services are currently being disrupted or limited due to the physical distancing, there are services that provide peer support and other community support available by phone, email and online.

This public health issue can be stressful, but our communities have a long history of staying informed and collective action to ensure we look after our health as well as the well-being of those around us. Let’s keep this legacy going as we look after ourselves and those around us.

Australian Capital Territory

AIDS Action Council of the ACT (AACACT)
Advice, mental health and social support services, financial assistance, legal advocacy
Tel: (02) 6257 2855

New South Wales

ACON
HIV prevention, health promotion, advocacy, care and support.
Tel: (02) 9206 2000
Free call: 1800 063 060

ACON Hunter Office Newcastle Tel: (02) 4962 7700

ACON Mid-North Coast Office Port Macquarie Tel: (02) 6584 0943

ACON Coffs Harbour Tel: (02) 6651 6017

ACON Northern Rivers Office Lismore Tel: (02) 6622 1555

Positive Life NSW
Advocacy, publications, services, speakers’ bureau, social marketing, education and peer support.
Tel: (02) 9206 2177
Free call: 1800 245 677

HIV Positive Heterosexuals (PozHets)
Statewide service providing education and support for heterosexuals living with HIV and their families.
Tel: (02) 9395 0444
Free call: 1800 812 404

Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service
Bilingual/bicultural support and advocacy for people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Tel: (02) 9515 1234
Free call: 1800 108 098 (Rural NSW callers)

Ankali
Volunteers provide one-to-one emotional support for people living with HIV, their partners, families and friends. Referrals into counselling and professional support.
Tel: (02) 9332 9742

Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF)
Financial help, supported housing, financial counselling, help with essential bills, loans of essential appliances.
Tel: (02) 9283 8666
Free call: 1800 651 010

Northern Territory

Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council (NTAHC)
Education, advocacy & support.
Tel: (08) 8944 7777

NTAHC Alice Springs
Tel:
(08) 8953 3172

People Living with HIV/AIDS NT
Tel: (08) 8944 7777

Queensland

Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC)
HIV education, advocacy & support.
Tel: (07) 3017 1777
Free call: 1800 177 434

QuAC Cairns Tel: (07) 4041 5451 Free call: 1800 884 401

Queensland Positive People (QPP)
Peer support, advocacy, treatments and health promotion information.
Tel: (07) 3013 5555
Free call: 1800 636 241

QPP Cairns
Tel: (07) 3013 5526

South Australia

SA Mobilisation + Empowerment for Sexual Health (SAMESH)
Support, education and counselling.
Tel: (08) 7099 5300

Positive Life SA
Advocacy and referrals.
Tel: (08) 8293 3700

Cheltenham Place/Centacare
Individualised support program for PLHIV, including home based respite support.
Tel: (08) 8272 8799

Personal Education and Community Empowerment (PEACE) Multicultural Services
HIV support, information and referrals.
Tel: (08) 8245 8100

Tasmania

Tasmanian Council on AIDS Hepatitis & Related Diseases (TasCAHRD)
Care and support, advocacy, financial support, housing assistance, education.
Tel: (03) 6234 1242
Free call: 1800 675 589

Victoria

Victorian AIDS Council (VAC)
Care and support, counselling, medical services, education, advocacy.
Tel: (03) 9865 6700

Living Positive Victoria (LPV)
Support, advocacy, treatments.
Tel: (03) 9863 8733

Positive Women – Victoria
Support and information for positive women and their families and friends.
Tel: (03) 9863 8747

Multicultural Health and Support Service
HIV education, advocacy & support.
Tel: (03) 9342 9711

Alfred Hospital – HIV CALD Service
HIV education & support to PLHIV.
Tel: (03) 9076 3942

Western Australia

Western Australian AIDS Council (WAAC)
Education, advocacy and support.
Tel: (08) 9482 0000

Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre
HIV education, advocacy & support.
Tel: (08) 9345 5755

Mental Health support services are available

Beyond Blue’s new COVID-19 Mental Health Support Service is in response to the growing demand for mental health support as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The service will be continually updated with new information, and enhanced with other tools and supports, over the coming weeks and months:

  • offering free counselling by mental health professionals for all people in Australia 24/7, both online and over the phone
  • providing free and easily accessible information and advice around coping with COVID-19, isolation and connection, workplace and financial hardship, and how best to support the mental health of loved ones

Other mental health support services include:

  • 1800RESPECT – Call 1800 737 732 – 24/7 national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line
  • Mensline – Call 1300 789 978 – 24/7 telephone and online support and information service
  • Suicide Call Back Service Call 1300 659 467 – 24/7 free counselling for people feeling suicidal, worried about someone else, or have lost someone to suicide

There is support for those experiencing financial hardship

As the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 continues to affect the global economy, many people in Australia are losing jobs, livelihoods and financial stability. For information and services provided by the Australian government, please visit Services Australia.

If you are experiencing financial hardship, National Debt Helpline offers free financial counselling.

More financial support for people affected by coronavirus was announced by the Australian Government on 25 March 2020. This comprises a temporary coronavirus supplement of $550 will be paid to existing income support recipients (people will receive their normal payment plus $550 each fortnight for 6 months).

Further information for and about people living with HIV (PLHIV) and COVID-19

ASHM’s Taskforce on BBVs, Sexual Health and COVID-19 has created guidance for clinicians and other healthcare providers regarding COVID-19 and adults living with HIV. These will continue to be updated as new information is available.

The American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ‘What to Know About HIV and COVID-19’ webpage.

AIDSinfo have published Interim Guidance for COVID-19 and Persons with HIV. This reviews special considerations for persons with HIV and their health care providers in the United States regarding COVID-19. This guidance includes general information to consider. People with HIV who have COVID-19 have an excellent prognosis, and they should be clinically managed the same as persons in the general population with COVID-19, including when making medical care triage determinations.

The Intensive Care Society (ICS) and British HIV Association (BHIVA) have developed a joint statement on considerations for critical care for people with HIV during COVID-19.

Frontline AIDS partners provide HIV prevention and treatment to some of the world’s most marginalised people and communities. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis continues to unfold, they will be regularly updating their COVID-19 page with relevant information and resources from Frontline AIDS and our partners.

The Body is an international HIV resource. They have developed this ‘What You Need to Know About the New Coronavirus and HIV’ webpage.

Watch the COVID-19 BBV and STI Sector Briefing

Now available:  A COVID-19 BBV and STI Sector Briefing was held on 19 March 2020 jointly with ASHM, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) and Hepatitis Australia to provide the most up to date information on COVID-19 from scientific, clinical, and public health perspectives. Here is a transcript of questions and answers from the briefing. The briefing particular focused on what COVID-19 means for our communities, joined by:

  • Professor Sharon Lewin: Infectious Diseases Physician and Director, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity
  • Mr Kevin Marriott: Acting CEO, Director of Programs and Communications Manager, Hepatitis Australia
  • A/Professor Edwina Wright: Infectious Diseases Physician, Clinical Researcher at the Alfred Hospital and the Burnet Institute
  • Professor Andrew Grulich: Program Head, HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program, The Kirby Institute

Watch the webinar on ‘COVID-19: is there an endpoint and what does it look like?’

Now available: This AFAO-hosted webinar held on 20 April 2020, include presentations by and discussions with, Damien Brown from the Doherty Institute, describing the modelling from the Doherty Institute’s report to the Commonwealth on various scenarios based on specific public health responses to COVID-19, and Dr Rob Grenfell, Director of the CSIRO’s Health and Biosecurity Business Unit, reflecting upon the public health policy levers open to governments to mitigate the harms of COVID-19.

Full details of the webinar are here

Watch the webinar on ‘COVID-19: transmission, herd immunity and is an exit strategy possible?’

Now available: This webinar, hosted by Kirby Institute UNSW Sydney on 21 April 2020, focuses on the epidemiology, pillars of public health disease control, health workers as a high-risk group, and emerging evidence around asymptomatic and aerosol transmission. The lockdown, social distancing, schools, universal face mask use and the herd immunity myth will be discussed in the context of an exit strategy. Other topics such as duration of immunity, reinfection potential and latest drug treatment data will be touched on. .

It is presented by Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute and NHMRC Principal Research Fellow.

PATSIN

Find out more about the Positive Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network (PATSIN)

POSITIVE LIVING

For people living with and affected by HIV

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