An opportunistic infection is caused by fungi, viruses or bacteria that would not normally attack a healthy body. A sick body is an “opportunity” for different microorganisms to attack the body.
Due to their suppressed immune system, people living with HIV are more vulnerable to these infections which take advantage of this by entering the body and making it sick.
The most common OIs include:
An infection caused by a bacterium that mainly affects the lungs, but it can attack other organs in the body as well. It usually affects people with a CD4 count below 200.
TB bacteria may be air-borne or transmitted in the saliva, expelled from the body when we speak, kiss, sneeze and cough.
Symptoms include fatigue, night sweats, chills, coughing and fever.
Treatment usually lasts six months, during which tests are carried out in order to find out if the infection is being controlled. In some cases, treatment can extend for up to 9 months and require hospitalization.
After having tuberculosis, it is important to take good care and continue antiretroviral therapy (ART) in order to prevent your immune system from being attacked by the virus, which will help in defending you from this and other infections. Additionally, if diagnosed with tuberculosis, anybody living with the patient should be tested for TB and undergo treatment if necessary.
A type of respiratory infection that affects the lungs. The lungs consist of small sacs, called alveoli, that, in a healthy person, are filled with air when they breathe. The alveoli of a person with pneumonia are filled with pus and fluid, which makes breathing painful and limits the absorption of oxygen.
Pneumonia can spread in several ways: viruses and bacteria commonly present in the nose and throat can infect the lungs when inhaled.
By airborne transmission, in droplets produced by coughing and sneezing, or through blood.
Symptoms include rapid or difficult breathing, coughing, fever, night sweats, chills, chest pain, confusion and delirium, and loss of appetite.
Treatment usually consists of amoxicillin, but it is important to receive a medical diagnosis since some patients may have contracted an antibiotic-resistant strain.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite. Cats, birds and other animals are carriers of the parasite, but it can also be found in some meats (especially pork), and in contaminated water and unpasteurized milk.
The parasite can infect the lungs, the retina of the eye, the heart, pancreas, liver, colon and testes. Once infected, it invades the body and remains there, but a healthy person’s immune system prevents it from causing sickness.
In people with weakened immune systems, such as those with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the parasite may begin to multiply and cause serious diseases. The most commonly affected organ is the brain, causing severe inflammation.
Symptoms include severe headaches that fail to improve with pain medication, weakness on one side of the body, fever, seizures, vision problems, and difficulty in talking and walking. Other symptoms may include confusion, decreased attention span, and personality changes.
Toxoplasmosis is treated with antibiotics, but people with weakened immune systems due to HIV should receive a permanent, low-dose treatment for life in order to avoid relapses, avoid contact with bird and cat feces, drink purified water and pasteurized milk, and eat well-cooked meats.
Histoplasmosis is a disease caused by a fungus called Histoplasma capsulatum, which is common in central and southern USA, South America, Central Africa, Southeast Asia and Australia.
This fungus grows in bird and bat feces, and its spores are breathed into the body, so it is not transmitted from person to person. In people with weakened immune systems, the fungus is able to grow in the bloodstream and spread to the lungs, skin, and occasionally to other parts of the body.
Over 90% of AIDS patients diagnosed with histoplasmosis have CD4 counts below 100, so keeping the virus in check through antiretroviral therapy (ART) is important in order to reduce the risk of infection.
Histoplasmosis may cause fever, weight loss, skin lesions, respiratory difficulties and inflammation of the liver and spleen. It frequently affects the bones and causes anemia.
It is treated with antifungal medications. Histoplasmosis can be prevented by reducing exposure to dust in chicken coops, caves with bats and other high-risk locations. You might be at risk if you work in agriculture, gardening or construction. Use a mask and other protective equipment if you enter or work in these environments.
Is an extremely common virus across the globe. Cytomegalovirus can be transmitted by saliva, blood, semen and other body fluids. It may cause a mild disease and many people never show any symptoms. Once infected, however, it cannot be eliminated from the body. It can cause eye and gastrointestinal infections in HIV-positive patients with low CD4 counts.
Symptoms include sore throat, swollen glands, fatigue, and fever.
In people with low CD4 counts it may cause blurred vision (if the cytomegalovirus infection is in the eye), pain when swallowing, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Cryptosporidiosis is a diarrheal disease caused by a protozoan called Cryptosporidium, and can develop into a chronic illness in people with CD4 counts ranging between 50 and 100.
Symptoms include abdominal cramps and severe chronic diarrhea. Infection with the parasite can occur by drinking water contaminated with fecal matter (such as that found in swimming pools, lakes or public water supplies), by eating infected raw food (such as oysters), or by transmission from person to person, including changing diapers or exposure to feces during sexual contact. Antiretroviral treatment and therapy are important for controlling the infection and protecting against it.
Cryptococcal disease or cryptococcosis
Cryptococcal disease is caused by a fungus that enters the body through the lungs and can spread to the brain causing cryptococcal meningitis. In some cases, it can also affect the skin, the skeletal system and the urinary tract. It can be fatal if not detected and treated appropriately with antifungal medication.
Although the infection is mainly found in the central nervous system, it may spread to other parts of the body, especially in people with CD4 counts below 50.
Signs and symptoms of cryptococcal meningitis may include fever, headaches, fatigue, stiffness of the neck.
Some patients may suffer memory loss or changes in awareness (altered consciousness) and in conduct.