People with HIV/AIDS have immune systems weakened by the impact of the illness. As their T helper cells (CD4 cells) continually die off, the immune system has less chance of fighting off viruses and invasive bacteria, leaving HIV/AIDS patients susceptible to opportunistic infections. People with healthy immune systems can fight off these illnesses, but they can pose serious risks for those with HIV/AIDS. Many deaths from HIV/AIDS is the result of one of the several opportunistic infections.
Tuberculosis among people with AIDS is a larger problem in countries with fewer resources than in developed countries, but it is still the leading cause of death worldwide of AIDS and HIV-positive patients. The disease is caused by a bacteria and commonly affects the lungs, but can also negatively affect the kidneys, brain, spine, and other internal organs. TB is spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings.
Candidiasis is a fungal infection common in people with AIDS. Candida is the group of fungi that live on the skin and in the mouth and is kept under control by the immune system. For people with compromised immune systems, candida growth causes an imbalance and can progress into three different infection types, including those affecting mouth, esophagus, or vagina. Symptoms of each type include white or red patches in the mouth, chest or throat pain, and discharge with vaginal itching, respectively.
Cryptosporidiosis is an infection caused by a parasite. The parasite is typically found in the intestine of animals. It can live in the human intestinal tract after it is passed along through contaminated food. This disease is characterized by diarrhea and can lead to an extreme, chronic case in people with AIDS. Other symptoms include cramping, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, fever, and weight loss. The parasite is also known to spread rapidly through contaminated drinking water.
This is a common virus in the herpes virus family and is easily treated in people with strong immune systems, but for people with AIDS and HIV, it can cause serious illness. It is transmitted through contact with an infected person’s saliva, semen, vaginal fluids, blood, urine, or breast milk, as well as through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Symptoms are similar to other common conditions, such as fatigue, swollen glands, and fever, but it can also cause an eye infection called retinitis.
HIV-related encephalopathy is a type of dementia specific to HIV and AIDS. It is caused by HIV itself and causes degeneration of cognitive, motor, and behavioral function. People with dementia can display signs of personality changes, memory problems, and impaired sense of judgement. Some of the common symptoms include lack of emotional and intellectual response, weakness, tremors, and loss of mobility. It is generally prominent when a person’s CD4 count is below 200.
This infection is caused by a parasite which lives inside of and feeds off a host organism. Most often, the infection affects the brain, but it can also the body in other areas. HIV/AIDS patients are most at risk when their CD4 counts go down, at which time it is recommended to take antiretroviral medication, avoid eating undercooked meat and fish, and wearing gloves and a face mask while cleaning a cat box since the parasite is prevalent in cat feces.
Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP)
This lung disease can be life threatening in people with weakened immune systems. Most healthy people can fight the organism that causes it with antibodies, but since it is prevalent in the environment, people with AIDS are susceptible. Research has helped, however, with the creation of drugs to help prevent the disease in the vulnerable. Along with a fever, respiratory symptoms include a dry cough, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. People also experience fatigue and night sweats.
This disease is caused by a parasite and can contribute to ill health by causing a deficiency in nutrients. Mainly spread by feces, as well as contaminated food and water and oral-anal sex, it is most commonly seen in tropical countries, but in the U.S., affects about 0.2 percent of AIDS patients. People with isosporiasis will experience severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, loss of appetite, dehydration, and flatulence. It can be treated with drugs, but about twenty-five to fifty percent of people with HIV are allergic to them.
This fungal infection is one of the most common among people with AIDS. The illness occurs from breathing in the offending organism, called H capsulatum microcondiia. Once in the lungs, it can spread to the lymph nodes and throughout the body via the reticuloendothelial system. In AIDS patients with low CD4 counts, it spreads rapidly and symptoms such as fever, weight loss, and general ill health will persist for a few weeks. Treatment is necessary for AIDS patients because of its progressive nature.
Herpes Simplex is common in AIDS patients and particularly in higher percentages among males who have sex with males. Up to thirty-four percent of AIDS patients are affected with anal lesions, which pose risk for contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV). Further risk of becoming infected with HPV is anal cancer. The infection usually shows up as tender and possibly bleeding warts and occasionally as skin lesions. There could also be pain, ulcers, vesicular erosion, urinary retention, and constipation.