What Are Opportunistic Infections?
Opportunistic infections (OIs) are infections that occur more frequently and are more severe in individuals with weakened immune systems, including people with HIV. People are at greatest risk for OIs when their CD4 count falls below 200, but you can get some OIs when your CD4 count is below 500.
OIs are less common now than they were in the early days of HIV and AIDS because better treatments reduce the amount of HIV in a person’s body and keep a person’s immune system stronger. However, many people with HIV still develop OIs because they did not know they had HIV for many years after they were infected. Others people who know they have HIV can get OIs because they are not taking antiretroviral treatment (ART); they are on ART, but it is failing and the virus has weakened their immune system; or they have AIDS but are not taking medication to prevent OIs.
Staying in care and getting your lab tests done is one of the most important things you can do to prevent opportunistic infections. This will allow your provider to know when you might be at risk for OIs and work with you to prevent them. Some opportunistic infections can be prevented by taking additional medication that is used to prevent that OI.
If you do develop an OI, there are treatments available, such as antibiotics or antifungal drugs. Having an OI may be a very serious medical situation and its treatment can be challenging. The best way to prevent OIs is to reduce your risk by staying in care, taking ART every day, and keeping your viral load undetectable or very low so that your immune system can stay strong.
For more information about OIs and a detailed list of them, visit CDC’s Opportunistic Infections