Being HIV Positive Increases Risk of Death From COVID-19

Fran Lowry

October 13, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

People with HIV who are hospitalized for COVID-19 have a significantly heightened risk of 28-day mortality compared with people without HIV.

A comparison of outcomes of people with HIV vs people without HIV who were hospitalized in the UK with COVID-19 from January 17 to June 4 showed that HIV-positive status was associated with a 63% increased risk of day 28 mortality.

This was especially true for HIV+ patients younger than 70 years of age, said Anna Maria Geretti, MD, PhD, professor of virology and infectious diseases, University of Liverpool.

The results are from an analysis of data from the ISARIC World Health Organization (WHO) Clinical Characterisation Protocol (UK) study, and were presented at the HIV Glasgow annual meeting, held virtually this year because of the pandemic.

"We investigated whether HIV status could be important in COVID-19 outcomes because there was anxiety on the part of our patients, and we wanted to gather some evidence-based information in order to help guide them," Geretti told Medscape Medical News.

Dr Anna Maria Geretti

"ISARIC is an international protocol and the UK is one of the nations participating. We applied for access to its very large database, which connects data from all patients who are hospitalized with either known or suspected COVID-19. We wanted to see specifically how the presentation and outcomes of patients with HIV compared with the rest of the population without HIV. It afforded us an ideal opportunity to start to answer this question, and this is our first analysis in what will be an ongoing process. Importantly, we showed that there is a need to really look more carefully at the population with HIV," she said.

Out of a total of 47,539 patients in the database, 115 (0.24%) had confirmed HIV-positive status, and 103 of those 115, or 89.6%, had a record of being on antiretroviral therapy.

On admission, the patients with HIV were younger, with a median age of 55 compared with 74 for patients without HIV (P < .001). They also had a higher prevalence of obesity, moderate to severe liver disease, higher lymphocyte counts and C-reactive protein, as well as more systemic symptoms.

There were no differences in respiratory rate, need for oxygen, or prevalence of chest infiltrates.

The cumulative incidence of mortality at day 28 was 25.2% in HIV-positive patients compared with 32.1% in HIV-negative patients (P = .12).

But when the researchers looked more closely, they noticed that the mortality rate was actually higher in younger HIV+ patients compared with HIV-negative patients.

Stratified by age, 28-day mortality was significantly higher in HIV+ patients aged <50 years (P =.004); and those aged 50 to 59 years (P = .05).

"So below the age of 70, the risk of mortality was double in people with HIV. The people with HIV who died often had diabetes with complications and also more frequent obesity, but this was not the only explanation," Geretti said. "There is something to do with the HIV status per se."

Next steps will be to expand the data set and repeat the analysis with an additional 100 patients "at least" she said.

The researchers also hope to zero in on what about being HIV+ is increasing the mortality risk from COVID-19.

"Right now we need greater numbers and we hope that the research community will be stimulated to take a closer look at this information, and merge other data so that we can strengthen confidence in the data and tease out what factors are causing this increased risk for mortality," Geretti said.

She also emphasized that all patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 should be asked about their HIV status.

"It is important that the HIV status be recorded if we want to increase our ability to understand how HIV impacts survival," she stressed. "In our experience we found that most of the hospital records were not doing that. Since HIV+ patients seem to be at increased risk, HIV status should be factored into the clinical management. Ask patients if they are HIV+, and if it is not known, then do a test. That would be good practice."

Geretti reports no relevant financial relationships. The work was supported by grants from the National Institute of Health Research, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Department for International Development, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

HIV Glasgow Virtual Meeting: Abstract O422. Presented October 8, 2020.

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