A person with a weak immune system has increased chances of catching certain infections. These infections are termed as opportunistic infections. One of the possible reasons for weakening of immune system can be chemotherapy or HIV/Aids.
HIV/ Aids has a direct impact on the immune system of a person, leading to a degraded immune system. Thus, a person finds it hard to fight against HIV/ Aids -related opportunistic infections.
Common infections in the list of HIV/ Aids -related opportunistic infections are tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, candidiasis (thrush), Salmonella infection and pneumonia. The only way for a person suffering from HIV/ Aids to prevent opportunistic infections is to take HIV/ Aids medicines as prescribed by the doctor. This helps in preventing the degradation of the immune system.
Opportunistic Infections and Their Relationship with HIV/ AIDS
Opportunistic infections are a special category of infections that affects those individuals more who have weaker or degrading immune system. There can be various reasons for weakening of immune system. A person suffering from HIV/ Aids is at a high risk of opportunistic infections due to continuously degrading immune system. There are several other medical conditions such as a person undergoing chemotherapy that may lead to weaker immune system.
All types of microorganisms including parasites, fungi, bacteria and virus can cause an opportunistic infection. These infection causing germs can easily pass on from individual to another via blood, air, saliva, feces and semen. They can also enter into our body through contaminated water and food. Some of the common HIV/ Aids -related opportunistic infections are as follows:
- Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) infection—This infection is caused by virus. The person infected with this virus develops lesions (sores) on face and mouth.
- Salmonella infection—This infection is caused by bacteria. It causes infection in the digestive tract.
- Candidiasis (or thrush)—This infection is caused by fungus. It can affect vagina, esophagus or mouth.
- Toxoplasmosis—This is probably the most severe infections as it affects the brain. It is caused by a parasite.
Why do People with HIV Get Opportunistic Infections?
HIV is a virus that that has a direct effect on the immune system of person. After entering into the body of an individual, the virus starts to grow in number and spread all over the body. Thus, a person with HIV/ Aids infection is an easy prey to opportunistic infections.
There is no cure for the infection but the HIV medicines can prevent the virus from spreading and destroying the immune system. In cases a person does not take medicines for HIV, it can eventually turn into AIDS. Certain opportunistic infections are clear indication of the AIDS-defining conditions. AIDS-defining conditions refer to life-threatening infections such as cancer and some types of pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB).
Are Opportunistic Infections Common in People with HIV?
When the medicines for HIV/ Aids were not available, the opportunistic infections could very easily lead to life threatening infections in people due to degrading immune system. However, HIV/ Aids medicines are readily available in most parts of the world. Thus, it is now possible for HIV/ Aids infected people to save themselves from opportunistic infections. The use of HIV medicines can only reduce the risk of OI but cannot completely eliminate the occurrence of opportunistic infections.
Following are some of the factors that can lead to opportunistic infections in a person infected with HIV:
- A large number of people infected with HIV/ Aids (about 20%) are not even aware of the infection until they are first infected with any opportunistic infections.
- Not all people infected with HIV/ Aids actually take medicines for HIV/ Aids as prescribed by the doctor. Thus, it is easier for them to catch opportunistic infections.
- In some cases of HIV/ Aids infected people, the medicines are not effective in preventing virus from degrading the immune system. There are several factors that can be responsible for this condition such as incomplete absorption of medicines, poor medication adherence, lack of health care etc…
How to Prevent Opportunistic Infections?
To prevent opportunistic infections:
Avoid Contact With The Germs That Can Cause Opportunistic Infections:
The germs that are responsible for causing opportunistic infections can spread through various carriers including human feces. Thus, it is important to maintain proper hygiene for preventing opportunistic infections. This can be ensured by washing hands properly with soap after touching diapers or using washrooms. You can find out more measures for preventing infection by discussing the problem with your doctor.
Be Careful About What You Eat and Drink:
One of the common means of getting infected with opportunistic infections is by consuming contaminated food or water. These can be prevented by avoiding following types of food:
- Raw eggs that have neither been cooked nor boiled.
- Meat, chicken, seafood and other poultry products in raw or uncooked form.
- Milk and all types of fruit juices must be pasteurized before drinking.
While traveling to a new place or new country, avoid drinking water for random sources. Make sure to drink mineral water.
Vaccines can be used to prevent certain types of infections such as polio, flu, influenza etc… Vaccine is a safe and secure way to minimize the risk of opportunistic infections. You can refer to HIV/ AIDS info fact sheet to learn more about the vaccines available for HIV infected patients.
Can Opportunistic Infections Be Treated?
In case a HIV/ Aids infected person catches any of the opportunistic infections, there are medications available for the treatment. The treatment includes different types of antifungal, antibiotic, and antiviral medications.
The HIV/ Aids infected person is recommended to continue the dosage even after the infection is cured to make sure that it does not repeat itself. You can further refer to the AIDS info Drug Database for the medications and available treatment options for opportunistic infections in HIV infected people.