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Staying Well

By Karen Roberts

Summer 1997

You can prevent illness before it happens. In 1996, PCP (pneumocystis carinii pneumonia "AIDS pneumonia") killed more women than any other disease associated with HIV/AIDS. PCP is 99% preventable. It can be well worth the effort to take medications to prevent this deadly disease. Ending up in the hospital with an active case of pneumonia can be much more inconvenient and it is definitely life threatening.

PCP is one of those diseases that most people have been exposed to. In a person with HIV, as the immune system becomes weaker, diseases like PCP take the opportunity to invade the body and become active. PCP is one of 27 opportunistic infections that can occur with a compromised immune system. The most effective medication used to prevent the onset of PCP is Bactrim.

Bactrim is an antibiotic sulfa drug. Many women experience an initial allergic reaction when they first start taking Bactrim. If this happens to you, ask your doctor about a process called "desensitization." Your doctor can start you out on a very low dose to get your body used to the drug. By taking just a little more each day, your body can adjust to taking a normal dose without having an allergic reaction. Different people require different dosages. Often doctors prescribe bactrim on an "every other day" schedule when using it for prevention. Others may prescribe a daily dose. About 85% of all people who go through the desensitization process are able to tolerate Bactrim quite well. (Dapsone is a viable alternative for someone who cannot be desensitized).

Remember, it is much easier to stay well than to try to get healthy after you are already sick. You can live longer by taking preventative treatments when they are prescribed to you. Waiting until you have an opportunistic infection involves a lot more pills, time in the hospital, home care and treatments.If your T-cells have ever been lower than 200, you should consider taking Bactrim or Dapsone.




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