Living with HIV/AIDS can result in a weakened immune system.
This makes the body more susceptible to a host of illnesses. Over time, the
virus attacks the body’s CD4 cells. These cells play a critical role in
maintaining a healthy immune system. You can reduce your likelihood of
developing common life-threatening illnesses by being proactive and taking daily
What are HIV/AIDS-related
infections (OIs) capitalize on weakened immune systems. These illnesses may
have little to no significant impact on an individual with a healthy immune
system. However, they can cause devastating effects for people with HIV/AIDS.
OIs typically present when your CD4 count drops below 200 cells per cubic
millimeter. They are considered AIDS-defining conditions. In general, a person
with HIV will not present with OIs if their CD4 count is above 500 cells per
The following 20 OIs have been defined by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention as AIDS-defining illnesses.
Infections common with HIV/AIDS
- Candidiasis: This is a common
fungal infection that’s also known as thrush. It can be treated with
antifungal medications after a simple visual examination.
This common fungal infection can lead to pneumonia if left untreated.
This fungal infection often enters through the lungs. It quickly spreads
to your brain, often leading to cryptococcal meningitis. Left untreated,
this fungal infection is often fatal.
- Cryptosporidiosis: This diarrheal disease often
becomes chronic. It is characterized by severe diarrhea and abdominal
This common global virus affects most adults during their lifetime. It
often presents with eye or gastrointestinal infections.
encephalopathy: This is often referred to as HIV/AIDs-related
dementia. It can be defined as a degenerative brain condition that affects
people with CD4 counts of less than 100. Current estimates suggest it
impacts roughly 25 percent of people with AIDS.
- Herpes simplex
(chronic) and herpes
zoster: Herpes simplex produces red, painful sores that appear on the
mouth or genital area. Herpes zoster, or shingles, presents with painful
blisters on skin surfaces. While there is no cure for either, medications
are available to alleviate some symptoms.
This environmental fungal infection is commonly treated with antibiotics.
This is a parasitic fungus. It develops when people drink or come into
contact with contaminated food and water sources. It is currently treated
with antiparasitic drugs.
- Mycobacterium avium
complex: This is a type of bacterial infection. It often presents
in people with severely compromised immune systems — CD4 cell counts of
less than 50. If these bacteria enter the bloodstream, it often results in
- Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP): This OI is
currently the leading cause of death in people with HIV/AIDS. Careful
monitoring and antibiotic therapies are currently used to treat the person
- Pneumonia that has
- Progressive multifocal
leukoencephalopathy (PML): This neurological
condition often affects people with CD4 cell counts below 200. While there
is no current treatment for this disease, some response has been shown
with antiretroviral therapies.
This parasitic infection commonly strikes people with CD4 cell counts
below 200. Prophylaxis treatments are used as a preventive measure for people
posting low CD4 cell counts.
This disease is most common in low-income areas of the world. It can be
successfully treated in most cases if caught early.
- Wasting syndrome
(HIV-related): This is unwanted body loss and a total weight loss
of more than 10 percent of your normal body weight. Treatment involves
dietary management and continued antiretroviral therapy.
Cancers common with
- Kaposi’s sarcoma:
This form of cancer often presents with either oral lesions or lesions
covering the skin surfaces. Current treatments include radiation and
chemotherapy to shrink the tumors, and antiretroviral therapy to boost the
body’s CD4 cell count.
- Lymphoma: A variety
of cancers frequently present in people with HIV/AIDS. Treatment will vary
based upon the cancer type and condition of the person.
cancer: Women with HIV are at greater risk for the development of
cervical cancer. The impaired immune system presents challenges associated
with treating this form of cancer.
If a person presents with one or more OIs, the disease will
likely be categorized as AIDS regardless of the person’s current CD4 cell
count. OIs are currently the leading cause of death for individuals living with
HIV/AIDS. However, antiretroviral therapies (HAART) and prophylaxis have shown
promise in preventing these diseases when taken as directed.
Introducing approved drug regimens and healthy daily living
habits can produce positive effects in people living with HIV/AIDS. They can
greatly improve life expectancy as well as quality of life. People with HIV/AIDS
can proactively avoid many OIs. Here are some tips:
- Follow a daily drug regimen that includes both
antiretroviral therapies and prophylaxes (medications used to prevent disease).
- Get vaccinated. Ask your doctor which vaccines
you may need.
- Use condoms consistently and correctly to avoid
exposure to sexually transmitted infections.
- Avoid illicit drug use and needle sharing.
- Take extra precautions when working in
high-exposure areas, such as day-care centers, prisons, health-care facilities,
and homeless centers.
- Avoid raw or undercooked products and
unpasteurized dairy products.
- Wash your hands frequently when preparing foods.
- Drink filtered water.
Antiviral medications and a healthy lifestyle greatly
decrease the likelihood of contracting an opportunistic infection. Medications
developed within the last 25 years have drastically improved the life-span and
outlook for people with HIV/AIDS.
Written by: Julie Verville
on: Dec 21, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP
This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.