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.
This page was last updated on 7 May 2020.
What is COVID-19?
I need COVID-19 explained in my own language
Who in our communities are at risk?
- Aged over 60 years old
- Living with a detectable viral load
- 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?
How do I protect myself and others?
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.
Where could I seek medical advice 24/7?
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.
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:
- Visit the Australian Government Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert webpage
- Subscribe to the Australian Government Department of Health Facebook page
- Subscribe to the Australian Government Department of Health Twitter page
- Subscribe to the Australian Government Department of Health WhatsApp message service from your Smartphone
- 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.
I am taking anti-viral medications – will they protect me from COVID-19?
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?
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.
Is there any advice for people who smoke?
Should I get the Flu vaccine?
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?
Should I stock up on groceries and household items?
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
On 29 March the Prime Minister announced the tightening of restrictions to try to stop the spread of COVID-19, gatherings are limited to a maximum of two people. But several states have gone much further while others have opted not to follow the new recommendations. So what are the laws as they currently stand?
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
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
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)
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 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 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
Tel: (07) 3013 5526
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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.