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British Government Texts Those Living With HIV: Stay Home for 3 Months

British Government Texts Those Living With HIV: Stay Home for 3 Months

Brit Gov HIV Text

The erroneous messages were immediately called into question by national HIV groups, who say that information is not backed by science.

People living with HIV in the United Kingdom received texts from the government erroneously telling them to "shield" at home for 12 weeks because they were at higher risk of severe illness amid the global coronavirus outbreak, according to a new BuzzFeed News report. The message stood in direct conflict with official government recommendations and accepted medical guidelines.

"Your condition means you are at high risk of severe illness if you catch Coronavirus," the message, screenshots of which have been circulated on social media, read in part. It originated from a "UK_gov" address. "Please remain at home for 12 weeks unless a healthcare professional tells you to leave. You will get a letter from the NHS to confirm this."

The British HIV Association (BHIVA) demanded an explanation from Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer of England for the text. They also released a joint statement with the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) to provide accurate information for persons living with HIV who may have received the notice.

"There is no evidence, nor guidance, that people with well controlled HIV should shield," they wrote. "BHIVA and THT recommend that only people whose immune system is known to be very weak as shown by a CD4 count of less than 50, or who have had a serious illness due to suppression of the immune system in the last 6 months, should be encouraged to follow the shielding advice." Those who are on the medication and have maintained an "undetectable" status would not fall into this group, but some still received the government's message.

BHIVA is the leading association for HIV health care professionals in the U.K. They are the national advisory board for the care of persons living with HIV, as well as a platform to bring awareness to HIV care issues. The Terrence Higgins Trust is the leading HIV and sexual health charity in the UK. The group is named after Terry Higgins, one of the first persons in the U.K. to have passed away from AIDS-related complications. Founded in 1995 by Higgins's partner and friends in a small London flat, the organization has since grown and now provides an array of support services.

It is unknown how many people received the text from the British Government.

"While we try to understand why @DHSCgovuk have texted people with well controlled #hiv to shield PLEASE IGNORE unless you have another reason to shield. PLEASE CONTINUE TO FOLLOW THE @BritishHIVAssoc ADVICE FOR NOW" read a tweet from Dr. Laura Waters, who is the BHIVA Chair.

Dr. Waters told BuzzFeed News that for persons living with HIV the mistaken text has "been pretty distressing, and I expect there's many more people trying to get through to their clinics worried about what to do".

According to the outlet, the government did not respond to the inquiries prior to publication.

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