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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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HIV/AIDS and Opportunistic Infections

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Preventing HIV Opportunistic Infections

Some of the germs that cause HIV opportunistic infections are so widespread they're difficult to avoid. But you can take steps to prevent some.

  • Make nutritious food choices to help boost your immune system.
  • Get regular exercise, but check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
  • Get enough rest and learn new ways to manage stress.
  • If you smoke or use drugs, get help quitting.
  • Thoroughly wash and cook all foods. Avoid raw or undercooked meats or eggs and unpasteurized dairy foods. Thoroughly wash and disinfect hands, knives, cutting boards, and counters where you prepare food.
  • Keep cats indoors to prevent their exposure to germs that could harm you. Have others handle cat litter or pick up dog feces -- or use gloves if you do.
  • Practice safe sex.
  • Use a towel on shared gym equipment. Use a different towel to dry yourself.
  • Avoid swallowing water in pools, lakes, or streams that might be contaminated.
  • Get vaccinations your doctor recommends.
  • Take HIV drugs to keep your immune system strong.

If your CD4 count stays up, HIV opportunistic infections are less likely to be a problem. However, if your CD4 count is low, you can take preventive drugs, called prophylaxis, to reduce your chances of becoming sick.

Diagnosing and Treating HIV-Related Opportunistic Infections

Many germs that cause HIV-related opportunistic infections are very common. You can undergo lab tests to learn which ones are already in your body. This will help your doctor know how to treat them and which ones you can focus on preventing. Unfortunately, as many as one out of four people in the U.S. aren't aware they're infected with HIV. Some don't find out until they end up in the hospital with a serious HIV-related opportunistic infection.

HIV makes copies of itself more quickly when HIV-related opportunistic infections occur. So early treatment is important not only to prevent serious results of infection, but to also preserve the immune system. Here's what you can do to receive diagnosis and treatment as early as possible.

  • See your doctor regularly -- two to 12 times a year. Make sure you have a primary care doctor who is experienced in HIV treatment and knows how to coordinate care well with other specialists.
  • If you're a woman, get regular pelvic exams and Pap tests to spot infections, precancers, or cancers of the reproductive system.
  • Keep a record of symptoms to help with diagnosis of HIV-related opportunistic infections. These include fever for more than two days, weight loss, a change in vision, or mouth problems, skin problems, or breathing problems.
  • Go to your doctor if you have any new or unusual symptoms. Don't wait for your regularly scheduled visit.
  • Prepare for appointments by coming with questions and a way to take notes.
  • Follow through with your course of treatment. Don't quit early.
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