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FIU Researcher Looks Into COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts On Older People Living With HIV

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses

A South Florida researcher is looking into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older people living with HIV.

“We took advantage of this to able to ask some COVID-19-specific questions” said Angel Algarin, a lead author on an article published in “AIDS and Behavior” in April. He’s also a doctoral student in public health and epidemiology at Florida International University.

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Algarin and his research team were originally running a clinical trial focused on the potential impact of tai chi and qigong on older adults living with HIV in Miami, which has ranked high in new infections. The pandemic suspended their trial.

The team continued to call their participants weekly, Algarin said, and began asking them about COVID-19 symptoms, testing and their ongoing HIV care. According to the article, 16 of 19 participants currently enrolled in the study filled out a COVID-19 questionnaire.

People with weakened immune systems are at greater risk from COVID-19, according to the CDC. The agency also said people with HIV might be at higher risk for severe illness but, so far, those findings are not conclusive.

According to the "AIDS and Behavior" article, preliminary findings show that most continued to receive HIV care in person while some had telehealth visits.

“We saw that not a lot of our participants had current symptoms of COVID-19, but for their HIV care outcomes, we saw that 100 percent were receiving antiretroviral therapy, which is the therapy they take to diminish their viral load of HIV,” Algarin said.

Algarin said another notable finding, so far, is the pandemic’s impact on stress levels, which are connected to social isolation, the economic downturn and potential exposure to the virus.

The article suggests this could help inform policy to address mental health as the pandemic continues.

“These findings could highlight potential barriers in educating older people living with HIV and COVID-19,” Algarin said. “We should be teaching people how to identify symptoms, knowing who should be testing for COVID-19 and whether you need to go through a drive-thru testing or call in to receive a test.”

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