coronavirus covid-19
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COVID-19 advice for sex workers, people with HIV, and more

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues, advisories have been issued for the general community as well as specific groups.

As of this week, travellers entering Australia, including returning residents and citizens, are officially required to self-isolate for 14 days to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Other countries have instituted similar travel restrictions.

An increasing number of workplaces are encouraging employees to work from home or take time off where possible.

People who do not appear sick may still be asymptomatic carriers and pass on the virus to others.

People living with HIV

People who are immunosuppressed, including some people living with HIV who have a low CD4 cell count, are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) has recommended that everyone in the community practise frequent handwashing and avoid touching their faces.

People who are unwell or caring for someone who is immunocompromised should avoid hugging, kissing, and other intimate contact with others.

AFAO has recommended that those taking antivirals or other medications should try to keep an extra month’s supply at home in case of supply delays or needing to be isolated or quarantined.

People using PrEP should check with their prescribing doctor if they have any concerns about maintaining their regular appointments during this time.

Supply of over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol is not expected to be affected, and these should not be stockpiled.

While COVID-19 is unrelated to flu, AFAO and the Department of Health have recommended that everyone consider having a flu vaccination if possible, especially people living with HIV or other chronic conditions.

Other health issues

People with other chronic illnesses such as asthma, cancer, or diabetes may also be at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Smokers may be at similarly increased risk, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often experience poorer health outcomes.

People in these groups, as well as older people and those living in residential care, are advised to consider taking extra precautions to minimise their risk of contracting COVID-19.

All people in the community can practise thorough hygiene and social distancing where possible to help protect those who are more vulnerable.

Sex workers

New South Wales peer organisation Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) has provided a set of evidence-based guidelines for sex workers.

It recommends workers take similar precautions to healthcare workers.

These include universal precautions such as handwashing and using barrier protection.

No evidence exists that COVID-19 is transmitted through sexual fluids, though it may be transmitted by saliva, even when an infected person is not showing symptoms.

Escorts and other workers who see clients in person may choose to reduce their risk of infection by having the client shower and wash on arrival and avoid touching faces and mouths.

SWOP has acknowledged that continuing to work during the pandemic may be difficult for sex workers.

Clients may avoid booking due to social distancing, and others might be unhappy with contact-limiting practices that workers may choose to employ.

SWOP will soon release advice on options for sex workers to access financial and other support during this period.

People who use drugs

Harm reduction organisations for people who use drugs have advised extra care in relation to infection control.

The Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition (IHRC) has released guidelines for safer drug use during the pandemic, including minimising sharing of injecting, snorting, or smoking equipment.

Sterile injecting equipment is available from needle and syringe programs.

People should prepare drugs themselves if possible, and wash their hands and disinfect surfaces regularly.

The pandemic is expected to cause supply issues for illicit drugs.

The IHRC recommends that people who regularly use opioids such as heroin consider speaking with a doctor or injecting health service about the possibility of accessing replacement therapy to avoid withdrawals during any shortage.

COVID-19 projections

Experts are yet unsure of when COVID-19 cases will peak and how long the crisis may last.

Public Health England has reported that the pandemic may continue into next year, according to The Guardian.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also described a worst-case scenario of hundreds of millions of cases over more than a year.

Notably, however, most people who contract COVID-19 will not experience severe symptoms.

The Australian Government Department of Health has a range of current information and guidelines available.

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