The most frequent threat to vision is Cytomegalovirus (CMV). This virus is responsible for about 80% or more of eye disease associated with AIDS. Almost all of us are infected with the CMV virus as children or young adults but do not suffer any ill effects unless our immune systems are weakened.
CMV is part of the Herpes family of viruses which remain dormant until activated by some event. CMV can affect various parts of the body, such as the intestinal tract, lungs and nervous system but most commonly infects the retina, the light-sensitive tissue which lines the eye and contains the nerves and receptors for vision. (The WIHS study most recently discovered that CMV may very well be the root cause of a medley of vaginal diseases associated with HIV).
People with AIDS are at risk for CMV retinitis. This disease is now treatable by a variety of methods. But the sooner it is discovered, the easier it is to treat and the fewer problems occur. The best protection is for you and your ophthalmologist to watch for evidence of the disease.
Learn the signs of CMV retinitis. These include: floaters, a curtain or veil, distorted vision and light flashes. Floaters are tiny black dots that appear in your field of vision and move around with your eyes. People describe them as "bugs" or "specks" that are most noticeable when you look at a white wall or blue sky. If you get a curtain, veil or "cobweb" over part of your vision, or if you notice areas missing, get examined.
When PWAs are concerned about their vision (either before they experience problems or when they have a confirmed diagnosis), the services of the HIV and Vision Loss Program at The Center for the Partially Sighted come into play. This program provides optometric care, and complete vision rehabilitation services by a professional staff. The main goal is keeping people as independent as possible with an emphasis on maximizing existing vision. For further information, contact Toya Bruce or Vicki Plowman. 310.458.3501