A CD4+ count is a blood test to determine how well the immune system is working in people who have been diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). CD4+ cells are a type of white blood cell. White blood cells are important in fighting infections. CD4+ cells are also called T-lymphocytes, T-cells, or T-helper cells.
HIV infects CD4+ cells. The number of CD4+ cells helps determine whether other infections (opportunistic infections) may occur. The pattern of CD4+ counts over time is more important than any single CD4+ value because the values can change from day to day. The CD4+ pattern over time shows the effect of the virus on the immune system. In people infected with HIV who are not getting treated, CD4+ counts generally decrease as HIV progresses. A low CD4+ count usually indicates a weakened immune system and a higher chance of getting opportunistic infections.
Why It Is Done
CD4+ counts are done to:
A CD4+ cell count taken at the time you are diagnosed serves as the baseline against which future CD4+ cell counts will be compared. Your CD4+ cell count is monitored every 3 to 6 months, depending on your health status, previous CD4+ cell counts, and whether you are taking antiretroviral therapy medicines.
How To Prepare
Before you have this test, you may have the opportunity to meet with a counselor so that you understand what the test results could mean about your HIV infection.
How It Is Done
The health professional drawing blood will:
- Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
- Clean the needle site with alcohol.
- Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
- Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
- Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
- Apply a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
- Apply pressure to the site and then a bandage.