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Common HIV Opportunistic Infections

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  • HIV and the Immune System

    HIV and the Immune System

    When an infection enters the body of a healthy person, white blood cells called lymphocytes respond to fight the infection. These lymphocytes include B cells and T cells. When someone has human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the condition causes certain T cells to die. This makes it harder for the body to fight off new infections.

    When serious infections take hold and the number of T cells drops to a certain level, a person can be diagnosed as having acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

  • What Are Opportunistic Infections?

    What Are Opportunistic Infections?

    People with HIV must be concerned about opportunistic infections (OIs). These infections are called opportunistic because they exploit a weaker immune system caused by HIV.

    Infections that occur more often and cause serious health problems in HIV patients are considered OIs. Preventing OIs involves a combination of medications and treatments.

    There are two types of OIs: Systemic OIs affect the entire body, and localized OIs tend to affect only a part of the body.

  • Know Your CD4 Count

    Know Your CD4 Count

    Your T cell or CD4 count determines your risk for certain opportunistic infections. The lower your CD4 count, the greater your risk of developing a serious OI.

    According to AIDS.gov, a healthy or normal CD4 count is between 500 and 1,000 cells/mm3. If that level drops to 350 cells/mm3, you should consider talking to your doctor about a treatment plan to boost your CD4 count. A diagnosis of AIDS may be made with a CD4 count of 200 cells/mm3 or lower.

  • Candidiasis (Thrush)

    Candidiasis (Thrush)

    Candidiasis, also known as thrush, is a fairly common opportunistic infection that is usually seen in HIV patients with a CD4 count of between 200 and 500 cells/mm3.

    The most obvious symptoms are white spots or patches on the tongue or throat. Thrush can be treated with prescription antifungal drugs. Good oral hygiene and the use of a chlorhexidine mouthwash may help prevent this infection.


  • Pneumocystis Infections

    Pneumocystis Infections

    Pneumocystis infections are some of the most serious OIs for people with HIV. According to AIDS.gov, pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) is a leading cause of death among HIV patients. The good news is that the infection can be treated with antibiotics.

    Symptoms include coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing. Treatment should begin early to give patients the best odds of recovery. Preventive medications may be prescribed for people at high risk of PCP infection.


  • Cryptococcosis


    The cryptococcus neoformans fungus is a fungus that is usually found in the soil. If it is inhaled, the infection is called cryptococcosis. This OI sometimes remains confined to the lungs, but it can spread to other parts of the body.

    If the brain becomes infected, the condition is called cryptococcal meningitis. HIV patients with a CD4 count of 50 cells/mm3 and 100 cells/mm3 are especially vulnerable to cryptococcosis. Those with an especially low CD4 count face a greater risk of the infection spreading.

  • Mycobaterium Aviam Complex (MAC)

    Mycobaterium Aviam Complex (MAC)

    For people with HIV and a CD4 count of less than 50 cells/mm3, the OI mycobaterium aviam complex (MAC) is a very serious health risk. MAC is a bacteria found in many parts of the environment. This OI usually affects the lungs or the intestines. But in serious cases, it can infect the blood and the rest of the body. Because MAC can be deadly, HIV patients at risk of developing this OI can take special medications to prevent an infection.


  • Prevention


    The Centers for Disease Control has designated more than 20 OIs as “AIDS-defining.” That means an individual can be diagnosed with AIDS if he or she has HIV and one of the designated OIs.

    If you have HIV, you should know the risks associated with each OI. Having your CD4 count checked regularly is critical. If your count is low, your doctor may prescribe medications to be taken before you get sick. Taking medications to prevent an illness is called prophylaxis.