ZocdocAnswersHow are white blood cells and HIV related?

Question

How are white blood cells and HIV related?

I'm a 39-year-old male who was recently diagnosed with HIV, and I'm struggling to understand its medical effects. What does HIV have to do with my white blood cell count? Should I try to maintain a certain white blood cell profile?

Answer

HIV attacks a specific subtype of white blood cells, the CD4 T cells. There are several different types of white blood cells, each of which is responsible for fighting specific types of infections (for example, viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasitic, etc.). CD4 T cells help the other types of white blood cells fight infection. When HIV infects a cell, it can survive there for many years, protected from antiviral medications. It slowly replicates, and its offspring infect other cells. Eventually, the virus takes over all of the cell functions in order to make more viral particles, leading to cell death. Without CD4 T cells, the other white blood cells cannot work as well even if they are present in sufficient numbers, leading to the serious infections that characterize AIDS. Antiviral medications prevent the virus from replicating and infecting new cells. Doctors monitor patients' CD4 white blood cell count and HIV viral load to determine when they will benefit from starting medications. It is very important that you see your doctor regularly as you learn more about HIV infection. Working with your doctor to stay informed about your health and adhering to the therapeutic plan is more important than targeting a specific white blood cell count.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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