What Are Opportunistic Infections

By Medically reviewed by Dr. Duyen Le

People living with HIV/AIDS can face serious health threats from certain viruses, bacteria, or parasites known as “opportunistic” infections. These infections are called “opportunistic” because they take advantage of their weakened immune system, and they can cause devastating illnesses.

Some common opportunistic infections include:

Candidiasis of bronchi, trachea, esophagus, or lungs

Candidiasis, also known as thrush, is caused by a common (and usually harmless) type of fungus called Candida. It is a fairly common opportunistic infection that is usually seen in HIV patients with a CD4 count of between 200 and 500 cells/mm3.

The skin, nails, and mucous membranes throughout the body can be affected by candida, especially in the mouth and vagina. However, candidiasis is only considered an OI when it infects the esophagus (swallowing tube). Another condition to consider candidiasis as an OI is when it infects lower respiratory tract, such as the trachea and bronchi (breathing tube), or deeper lung tissue.W hite spots or patches on the tongue or throat are the most obvious symptoms. Thrush can be treated with prescription antifungal drugs. Good oral hygiene and the use of a chlorhexidine mouthwash may help prevent this infection.

Pneumonia

Pneumocystis infections are some of the most serious opportunistic infections for people with HIV, caused by some fungus such as Coccidioidomycosis, Cryptococcosis, Histoplasmosis, Pneumocystis jirovecii, some bacteria such as Pneumococcus, and some virus such as Cytomegalovirus or Herpes simplex. Among of them, pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) is a leading cause of death among HIV patients. The good news is that the infection can be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms include coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing. Sometimes, it can also spread to the brain, causing swelling of the brain. Treatment should begin early to give patients the best odds of recovery. There are now effective vaccines that can prevent infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae and all persons with HIV infection should be vaccinated.

Cryptococcus neoformans

The cryptococcus neoformans fungus is a fungus that is usually found in the soil. This infection sometimes remains confined to the lungs, but it can spread to other parts of the body, for example skin, bones, or urinary tract. The fungus gets into the body through the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia. Also, It can develop and move to the brain, causing swelling of the brain.

If the brain becomes infected, the condition is called cryptococcal meningitis.

Tuberculosis (TB)

The reason of Tuberculosis (TB) infection is the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. When a person with active TB coughs, sneezes, or speaks, TB can be spread through the air. Infection in the lungs is the result of breathing in the bacteria. Symptoms of TB in the lungs include a cough, tiredness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. The disease usually occurs in the lungs, but it may also affect other parts of the body, most often the larynx, lymph nodes, brain, kidneys, or bones.

Some kinds of cancer

There are some cancers considered as opportunistic infections, for example:

  • Invasive cervical cancer which starts within the cervix and then spreads (becomes invasive) to other parts of the body. To prevent this cancer, you can ask your health care provider to perform regular examinations of the cervix.
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) caused by human herpesvirus. KS causes small blood vessels, called capillaries, to grow abnormally. KS can be life-threatening when it affects organs inside the body, such the lung, lymph nodes or intestines.

Many people with HIV still develop opportunistic infections because of their condition of weakened immune system. The best ways to prevent from opportunistic infections are to get into and stay in medical care and to take HIV medications as prescribed.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnose or treatment.

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