Business Insider Edition

Many South Africans may be hit hard by the coronavirus due to TB, HIV

James de Villiers , Business Insider SA
 Mar 04, 2020, 06:08 AM
(Getty images)
(Getty images)
  • Experts believe people with poor immune systems due to HIV and TB may be at higher risk for contracting the coronavirus. 
  • SA has the highest level of HIV prevalence in the world, with an estimated 20% of the country’s adult population being infected. 
  • It, however, still remains unclear how coronavirus will impact people living with TB and HIV. 
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People with compromised immune systems due to HIV and tuberculosis (TB) may particularly at risk for contracting the coronavirus, South African health experts believe. 

This means South Africa, which has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world and second highest incidence of TB, is set to be particularly hard hit if the virus spreads to the country.

Coronavirus, or the Covid-19 virus, was declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in January. 

It has so far killed more than 3,000 people and infected 90,000 in more than 60 countries since it was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December.

Also read: Why screening at SA airports won't do much to stop coronavirus

Professor Anton Stoltz, head of the infectious diseases department at the University of Pretoria, said people most at risk for coronavirus include those with chronic conditions, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease. 

Dr Sibongile Walaza of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) explained that chronic conditions compromise an individual’s immune system which increases their risk of contracting coronavirus. 

He said a compromised immune system could be related to HIV, TB, diabetes, and cancer. Smoking also poses a major risk factor. 

“This is the same group who should be recommended to get influenza (flu) vaccine and they should seek care sooner rather than later,” Walaza told Business Insider South Africa. 

Also read: SA’s summery weather may be keeping coronavirus at bay, experts believe

The United Nations estimates that 7.7 million South Africans are living with HIV, or 20.4% of people aged 15–49 years. However, only 62% of those are receiving treatment.

In a statement about the possible impacts of coronavirus on South Africa, the Academy of Science of South Africa (Assaf) notes that those living with HIV have higher chances of getting pneumonia due to the influenza (flu) virus, and a three-fold higher case fatality risk. 

The Covid-19 virus shows similar symptoms to the influenza virus and also spreads through droplets. 

“It is [however] not known whether individuals with HIV or TB, both of which are highly prevalent in South Africa, are at increased risk for severe disease following infection with SARS-CoV-2,” Assaf said.

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