A Practical Guide to HIV Drug Treatment for People Living with HIV


2. HIV and AIDS: The Basics

In this part of the guide, we go over some of the "basics" of HIV—what your immune system is, what CD4 cells are, what HIV infection does and how to fight it.

  • 2.1 The Immune System
    • Your immune system is your body’s defence against infections and cancers.
    • The immune system has many components, including the skin, mucous membranes and white blood cells.
    • There are many types of white blood cells. Each type plays a different role in fighting infections.
    • A CD4 cell is a type of white blood cell that is especially important to the immune system. HIV infects and destroys CD4 cells.
  • 2.2 What Does HIV Do to You?
    • HIV destroys CD4 cells—the very cells that are most critical to the immune system.
    • If HIV is left untreated, the number of CD4 cells decreases over time and the immune system becomes weaker. Eventually, the immune system becomes too weak to fight off certain serious infections.
    • Ongoing HIV infection also causes inflammation, which may increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and other long-term health complications.
    • Following an acute phase, when the virus is establishing itself in the body, HIV becomes a chronic infection. With proper care and treatment, people with chronic HIV infection can remain healthy for many years without ever developing AIDS.
  • 2.3 Monitoring Your Health
    • Regular visits to your doctor are important for monitoring your health.
    • You and your doctor will likely discuss any new symptoms or problems you may be experiencing. From time to time, you will also have a physical exam.
    • Your doctor will order blood tests to monitor your CD4 count, viral load and overall health.
    • Your CD4 count gauges the strength of your immune system and helps determine the best time to start treatment.
    • Your viral load measures the amount of HIV in your blood and is used to determine whether your treatment is working.
  • 2.4 Resources

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