HIV: Opportunistic Infections

  • Basics

    Opportunistic infections are infections that occur if you have a weakened immune system. Your immune system, when healthy, protects you from infections. People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have weakened immune systems that are unable to fight certain infections. People with weakened immune systems can even get infections from organisms that don’t usually cause diseases in health people. HIV attacks specific cells in your immune system known as helper T cells. These white blood cells, also known as CD4 (or CD4+) cells, help to keep infection at bay. Having HIV reduces the numbers of these helpful cells in your body, and makes it harder for your immune system to fight off disease.

  • Causes

    HIV-related opportunistic infections can be caused by a wide variety of disease-causing microorganisms (pathogens). You can get an opportunistic infection from almost anywhere in the environment (for example, soil or water), from certain unwashed raw foods, from contact with animal feces, and in rare cases, from other people. You can also become sick if you carry certain dormant pathogens that reactivate as your immune system fails. If your immune system is particularly weak, you may want to avoid places such as daycare centers, dormitories, hospitals, or other places where germs may be common, or where the high concentration of people increases your likelihood of picking up an infection.

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