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Immune Reconstitution

October 2012

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Table of Contents

What Is Immune Reconstitution?

HIV can damage your immune system and decrease your body's natural ability to fight infections. Immune reconstitution or restoration refers to:

  • Improving the body's immune function
  • Repairing the damage done by HIV

While many different methods of immune reconstitution are under investigation, there are no FDA-approved immune-based therapies for HIV disease available. The good news is that advances in HIV treatment have lead to the development of HIV drugs that are more effective and less toxic. Although HIV drugs cannot cure HIV, they can help you stay healthy by preventing the virus from reproducing (making copies of itself) and doing more damage to your immune system.

How Does HIV Damage the Immune System?


HIV attacks immune system cells called CD4 cells. HIV enters these cells and turns them into virus factories that produce thousands of copies of HIV. Viral load is the amount of HIV (number of copies) in your bloodstream. The higher the amount of HIV, the greater the chances of your immune system being damaged.

As the virus reproduces, it damages or kills CD4 cells. Over time, the virus decreases both the number and type of CD4 cells. When the immune system loses too many CD4 cells, your body is less able to fight off infection. Serious, even deadly infections can develop. These are called opportunistic infections (OIs) because they take advantage of the body's weakened defenses.

Using HIV Drugs to Restore Immune Function

HIV drugs work by stopping HIV from making copies of itself. When HIV cannot reproduce, it cannot infect new cells in your body and your viral load remains low. This allows your body's immune system to repair itself instead of constantly fighting off HIV.

The sooner someone who is living with HIV (HIV+) starts taking HIV drugs, the less damaged her immune system will be and the sooner it can return to its healthy, germ-fighting status. Research studies have shown that starting treatment earlier, even when someone feels fine and has plenty of CD4 cells, can prevent unseen damage to the immune system and slow disease progression. As a result, the US Department of Health and Human Services now recommends treatment for all people living with HIV, no matter what their CD4 count.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
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