If you live with an advanced case of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), you can be an easy target for different infections and diseases.
HIV weakens your immune system. It hijacks white blood cells called CD4 cells, or T cells. When the virus destroys too many, your immune system can’t fend off viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other diseases. Treatment with HIV drugs like antiretroviral therapy (ART) can help keep your immune system healthy and greatly lower your chance of getting these conditions.
Some serious infections fall into a category called “AIDS-defining conditions.” If you have one of these, your HIV has advanced to AIDS.
HIV Opportunistic Infections
Opportunistic infections take advantage of your body’s weakened defenses. Germs like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites cause these infections. Better HIV medications have kept these infections at bay for many. But there's still a small chance that you may catch one. If you're not taking these medications, or your condition has advanced to AIDS, your risk is higher.
Common opportunistic infections include:
Candida. This infection happens thanks to a fungus. If yours is tied to AIDS, it shows up in your throat. That can make swallowing tough and cause things like chest pain. Also called esophageal candidiasis, it can move to your lungs and your kidneys. At that point, candida can be fatal.
Tuberculosis. Bacteria attack your lungs. It can also affect other parts of your body.
Cytomegalovirus disease. This virus damages your eyes, digestive tract, or lungs. You can get the virus from bodily fluids.
Salmonella infection. This bacteria attacks your gut. It’s commonly associated with food poisoning. In people with advanced HIV, the infection may spread to the bloodstream, causing a severe infection called septicemia.
HIV and AIDS-Related Cancers
People with HIV have a higher chance for three types of cancer. If you have HIV and find out you have one of these cancers, it may mean that your HIV has advanced to AIDS.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This cancer affects your body’s lymphatic system. Three subtypes of this cancer are common in people with advanced HIV and AIDS:
- Aggressive B-cell lymphomas
- Primary central nervous system lymphoma
- Primary effusion lymphoma
People with HIV or AIDS have a higher chance of other cancers. These include:
You can take simple steps to lower your chances of getting an opportunistic infection or cancer.
First and foremost, take your HIV medication every day. It keeps the virus in check so it can’t damage your immune system.
Other ways to lower your odds include:
Get vaccinated. Talk to your doctor about which immunizations you need.
Wash your hands. To avoid certain germs that can cause opportunistic infections, wash your hands regularly, and especially:
- Before and after cooking and mealtimes
- After using the bathroom or changing baby diapers
- After you pick up after your dog or change the cat litter
Aerobic exercise is things that get your heart pumping like walking, jogging, biking, and working around the house. It can make your lungs and heart stronger and help prevent heart disease.
Strength training helps keep your muscles strong. Advanced HIV can cause weakening of muscles, so it’s especially important for you to keep your strength up. You can use your own body weight to do things like push-ups or pull-ups. You can also use weights, and even things around your house like milk jugs filled with water.
Make sure to talk with your doctor before you start. They can tell you which exercises might be best for you.
If you have advanced HIV, make sure you stick with cooked foods. Raw or undercooked foods can carry germs that can cause opportunistic infections. For example, don’t eat:
- Raw or undercooked poultry, meat, or shellfish
- Unpasteurized dairy products
- Raw or undercooked eggs
- Unpasteurized fruit juice
- Raw seed sprouts like alfalfa or mung bean sprouts