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People living with HIV should follow the general advice on how to prevent COVID-19. This includes regularly washing their hands and not touching their face. They should also listen to the local government advice around physical distancing – including whether they should be staying at home and avoiding crowded spaces.

People living with HIV may also need to take extra steps to ensure that they can protect their health and immune system during this time. This includes:

  • stocking-up on antiretroviral treatment, so that they have enough for at least 30 days, ideally for three months,
  • ensuring their vaccinations are up to date (for example influenza and pneumococcal vaccines),
  • making sure they know how to get in touch with their health care facility and any peer supporters,
  • having a plan in place if they feel unwell and need to stay at home,
  • eating well and exercising as best they can (even at home),
  • looking after their mental health by keeping in touch with friends and family and seeking support if needed.

 

With so few cases, it is unclear whether COVID-19 can be passed from a woman to her unborn or newborn baby. Emerging evidence suggests that it may be possible for mothers to pass on COVID-19 to their babies through pregnancy or birth. However, this is still being investigated.

Pregnant women should continue to follow advice to protect themselves from the virus, and seek medical care straight away if they have symptoms.

There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be passed on through breastfeeding.

The World Health Organization now recommends that people wear fabric masks where it’s not possible to stay at least 1 meter away from other people. This includes when you’re on public transport, inside shops, or any other time when you’re in a confined or crowded space.

Depending on where you are in the world there may be other rules that require you to wear masks in certain situations. Make sure you know what the recommendations are where you live so you can follow them.

The main reason for wearing masks is to stop you from passing COVID-19 on. We now have evidence that people can pass COVID-19 on even when the don't have any symptoms. Wearing a mask, in combination with physical distancing where possible, will help stop COVID-19 from spreading.

However if you have COVID -19 symptoms you should still stay home and self-isolate - wearing a mask is not enough.

There are two main types of masks: fabric masks (which you can make yourself) and medical masks (which are in short supply and should be reserved for health care workers). The type of mask suitable for you will depend on who you are and the type of risk that you face.

As medical masks are in short supply, these should be saved for health workers and people caring for those who have COVID-19. These masks can protect the wearer from getting COVID-19, but should be combined with other safety measures, including frequent hand washing and physical distancing.

Fabric masks are more readily available, you can make these yourself by following these instructions. These masks are suitable for healthy people to wear in public places. They stop you from passing the virus on if you have COVID-19 but haven’t realised and don’t have symptoms. Fabric masks don’t stop you (the wearer) from getting COVID-19, so make sure that you keep up other measures – limiting your social contacts and washing your hands to reduce your own risk of getting COVID-19.

Masks should be used in combination with other safety measures, including keeping at least a 1 metre distance between yourself and those outside the house, regular hand washing and limiting your social contacts.

For a mask to be effective it needs to fit closely and not be too lose. It should cover your nose, mouth and chin and you should be able to breathe easily while wearing it.

Here’s some advice on how to use a mask effectively.

  • Before putting on a mask, make sure that your hands are clean and that the mask is not dirty or damaged (with holes for example).
  • Avoid touching the mask while you’re wearing it. If you notice that the mask has become wet or dirty, change it for a new one.
  • Clean your hands before removing your mask. Use the ear-loops to take your mask off, being careful not to touch the front of the mask. Wash your hands again after you have removed the mask.
     

Don’t share your mask with other people. When you are not wearing it, put it inside a re-sealable plastic bag. If possible you should wash the mask in hot water and detergent at the end of each day.

A tippy tap is a simple device that can help you rinse your hands with water. You operate the tippy tap with your foot, so you don’t have to touch any handles where germs, bacteria or viruses can live. You step on a lever, and the water pours onto your hands.

These tippy taps are easy to make and are the best way to wash your hands if you don’t have easy access to running water or taps.

There are different ways to make tippy taps. For the basics you will need:

  • a plastic water container (with a handle and cap),
  • string
  • long sticks (1 for the lever and more for if you’re making a frame)
  • A branch or frame made out of sticks to hold the tippy tap up.

For full instructions on making a tippy tap, see this guide.

We are still learning more and more about the risk of COVID-19 for people with HIV.

We know that the best way people living with HIV can protect themselves, is by taking antiretroviral treatment (ART). Taking ART keeps the level of HIV in someone’s body low, so that their immune system can stay strong and fight infections, including COVID-19.

Having a compromised immune system when you are living with HIV, increases your risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. This includes people with:

  • a low CD4 count (<200 copies/cell),
  • a high viral load,
  • or people who have had a recent opportunistic infection.
     

These people should speak to their health care worker for more advice on how to avoid COVID-19.

As in the general population, older people living with HIV or those with other existing health problems (including heart or lung problems) may also be more at risk and should speak to healthcare providers for advice.