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my son was just diagnosed w/AIDS
Oct 26, 2008

My 23 y.o. son tested + for HIV in 5/08. Several months later his "labs" were drawn and his levels are:84,221 virul load, 35 t-cells. He has had test every 6 months since age 15. I am very scared! He seems always tired, last night his face broke out, chest congestion - yet no pneumonia (chest x-ray). What is next? What do I do? How bad are his #'s? I'm so scared...this is my son!

Response from Dr. Frascino


I'm sorry to hear about your son's recent diagnosis. If his absolute CD4 count is only 35, he has severe immune deficiency and a diagnosis of AIDS (rather than just HIV positive). When the CD4 cell count falls below 200, the diagnosis of AIDS is confirmed. The low count means that he is at increased risk for a variety of opportunistic infections, because his immune system is no longer able to fight them off. The list of potential opportunistic infections includes PCP (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia), CMV (cytomegalovirus), MAC (mycobacterium avium complex), toxoplasmosis and candidiasis among many others. There are prophylactic medications available to decrease the likelihood of getting a number of these infections. These should be started immediately. Equally critical at this time is getting started on an antiretroviral drug regimen. This will hopefully decrease the viral load and allow for some degree of immune reconstitution (increased CD4 count). As the CD4 count increases, the risk of opportunistic infections decreases.

The viral load is a measure of how active HIV is replicating. Your son's number, 84,221, is significantly elevated. What do you do? In addition to supporting and loving your son, I would suggest you begin to learn more about HIV, including more about various HIV treatments. If your son agrees, perhaps you could accompany him on his visit to an HIV specialist. I'm assuming your son is seeing an HIV specialist. If not, he should consult an HIV specialist physician without delay. You can also learn a great deal from this Web site. Have a look around. Start with the chapter, "Just Diagnosed" that can be easily accessed on The Body's homepage under the heading Quick Links. You should also tell your son about this Web site, as he too may find it helpful.

Finally, I do realize how scared you are and I'm sure your son is terrified as well. Try to keep an optimistic attitude. Working closely with an HIV specialist physician, there is a good chance your son's condition could improve dramatically.

Your final comment, ". . . this is my son!" is particularly poignant. It's worth pointing out each of the 34,000,000 people currently living with HIV/AIDS, including yours truly, is someone's son, daughter, lover, husband, wife, uncle, aunt, neighbor, best friend, etc.

Dr. Bob

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