HIV/AIDS Opportunistic Infections
Every single one of us carries round vast amounts of bacteria, fungi and viruses in our bodies. For the majority of us they pose no problem as our healthy immune systems keep them at bay and stop them developing into disease. For someone who has the HIV virus wreaking havoc with their immune system, these germs look on the body as a playground and run riot causing all sorts of illnesses. These illnesses are dubbed opportunistic infections.
There is a long list of opportunistic infections which can affect people with HIV. Generally speaking they strike when the body’s CD4+ count goes below 200 indicating the onset of full blown AIDS.
When the body loses too many of the CD4+ cells, the ability to fight infection decreases and the door opens to serious illnesses such as cancer, pneumonia and neurological problems. The door is also open wide to less serious opportunistic infections, such as thrush, which won’t kill a person but can be a real nuisance.
Some of the more common opportunistic infections include a rare form of skin cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma, a pneumonia known as pneumocystis , toxoplasmosis , cytomegalovirus which causes eye problems and candidiasis (thrush) .
Back in the 1980s, when very little was known about HIV and AIDS, opportunistic infections caused huge amounts of sickness and the death rate among those with the virus was high.
Nowadays, thanks to excellent anti HIV drugs which boost the immune system and can prevent all sorts of infections, less people fall prey to the infections so the death rate has slowed down. But it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that opportunistic infections are responsible for the majority of deaths among people with AIDS.
Men and women differ in terms of the susceptibility to certain opportunistic infections. There are the obvious gender-related diseases such as cervical cancer and prostate cancer. But for unknown reasons men are eight times more likely than women to develop a rare form of skin cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. Women are more likely to develop bacterial pneumonia and they may also have a higher rate of herpes simplex infections than their male counterparts.
When a person is diagnosed with AIDS there is no way of knowing what they will be susceptible to. Certainly doctors know that if a patient’s CD4+ count falls below certain levels they are more likely to get serious opportunistic infections.
The best way of preventing an infection is to ensure that the immune system is as strong as possible by taking the anti HIV drugs before the CD4+ count goes too low.
Drugs to prevent certain infections from occurring (known as prophylaxis) can also be used. And if a person does get an opportunistic infection there are some very effective treatments available these days depending on the type of infection.