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Opportunistic Infections 101

By Enid Vázquez

November/December 2004

Opportunistic Infections 101

What's an opportunistic infection? It's a disease that preys on people with weak immune systems. That's what makes it an opportunist.

Fortunately, people with HIV who are taking therapy can go a long time before they suffer the immune damage that allows an opportunistic infection (OI) to rise up. Even people who have an AIDS diagnosis but respond well to HIV therapy can avoid an OI.

Unfortunately, there are still many people who don't even know they're infected until the virus develops into AIDS and an OI lands them in the hospital -- sometimes killing them. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one out of four people living with HIV in this country don't realize that they have it. Tell your friends and family to get tested!

A set of guidelines for preventing and treating opportunistic infections in people with HIV is available from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), in conjunction with the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). If you have an opportunistic infection, I urge you to get a copy of the guidelines. See the end of this article for ordering information. The following is some of the updated information from the guidelines since our last story on OIs, which included transmission and symptoms (see "The Stalker Awaits," Sept./Oct. 2001 on-line or write to Positively Aware for a copy).

For More Information

You can order a copy of the Guidelines for the Prevention of Opportunistic Infections in Persons with HIV by contacting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The document is written for medical providers, but is pretty straightforward and broken down by each OI. DHHS also has very easy-to-read brochures on many of the OIs. The toll-free number is 1-800-HIV-0440 (448-0440). Write AIDSinfo, P.O. Box 6303, Rockville, MD 20849-6303. (You can write "DHHS Guidelines" instead of AIDSinfo.) Visit

Opportunistic Infections

  1. Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), officially called Pneumocystis jiroveci

  2. Toxoplasmic encephalitits

  3. Cryptosporidiosis

  4. Microsporidiosis

  5. Tuberculosis

  6. Disseminated infection with Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC)

  7. Bacterial respiratory infections

  8. Bacterial enteric (intestinal) infections

  9. Bartonellosis

  10. Candidiasis

  11. Cryptococcosis

  12. Histoplasmosis

  13. Coccidioidomycosis

  14. Cytomegalovirus disease (CMV)

  15. Herpes simplex virus disease

  16. Varicella-zoster virus disease

  17. Human herpesvirus 8 infection (Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus)

  18. Human papillomavirus infection

  19. Hepatitis C virus infection

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