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Skin Conditions Related to HIV/AIDS

What Is HIV/AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). The virus weakens a person's ability to fight infections and cancer. People with HIV are said to have AIDS when the virus makes them very sick and they develop certain infections or cancers.

Because HIV weakens the immune system, people with AIDS are more likely to suffer health problems, including those of the skin. In fact, certain skin diseases may be the first sign that someone is infected with HIV.

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While many people with HIV/AIDS may develop the following conditions, especially Kaposi's sarcoma (sometimes called KS), it is important to note that a person may have any one of these conditions but not have HIV/AIDS.

Thrush and HIV/AIDS

Thrush is an infection of the mouth caused by the candida fungus, a type of yeast. A common sign of thrush is the presence of creamy white, slightly raised lesions in your mouth -- usually on your tongue or inner cheeks -- but also sometimes on the roof of your mouth, gums, tonsils, or back of your throat. The lesions, which may have a "cottage cheese" appearance, can be painful and may bleed slightly when you scrape them or brush your teeth.

Candida infections can spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs, liver, and skin. This happens more often in people with cancer, HIV, or other conditions that weaken the immune system. The symptoms may be more severe and difficult to manage in those with weakened immune systems.

To treat thrush, your doctor may prescribe antifungal medications (tablets, lozenges, or liquids), which are generally taken for 10 to 14 days.

Kaposi's Sarcoma and HIV/AIDS

Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is a form of cancer that occurs on the skin and in mucous membranes. It occurs among people who have HIV/AIDS. It is related to a herpes type virus.

KS appears as purplish or dark lesions on the skin. Because of the weakened immune system caused by AIDS, KS can spread quickly to other parts of the body, including internal organs.

KS can be treated with surgery (cutting out the lesion and surrounding skin), chemotherapy (drugs that kill cancer cells), radiation therapy (high doses of X-rays or other radiation), or biologic therapy (using the body's own resources to boost the immune system). Treating HIV itself is usually the best treatment as it restores the immune system enough to cure the KS.

Oral Hairy Leukoplakia As a Sign of HIV/AIDS

Oral hairy leukoplakia is an infection that appears in the mouth as white lesions on the bottom or sides of the tongue. Oral hairy leukoplakia may be one of the first signs of HIV/AIDS. The infection is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.

Oral hairy leukoplakia lesions may be flat and smooth or raised and furry (hairy). The lesions do not cause pain or discomfort, so they are usually not treated. The condition resolves on its own, but can recur often. If necessary, oral hairy leukoplakia can be treated with acyclovir, a medication that treats herpes (see below).

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