What are opportunistic infections?

Opportunistic infections are infections that occur more frequently and are more severe in people who have weakened immune systems, including people who have acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Infections with fungi, parasites, viruses or bacteria that may not cause problems in people who have healthy immune systems can be severe in people with weakened immune systems. Even some cancers, including invasive cervical cancer and Kaposi's sarcoma, appear on lists of opportunistic infections.

Preventing opportunistic infections may include treatment with medications that provide antiretroviral therapy and/or that protect you against disease. Prevention may also require adapting certain lifestyle habits to minimize your risk of coming into contact with organisms that can cause opportunistic infections. These steps may include:
  • practicing "safe sex" including the use of condoms
  • avoiding exposure to blood (including not sharing hypodermic needles)
  • getting vaccinated according to your doctor's recommendations
  • practicing food safety, including never drinking untreated water or consuming undercooked eggs or unpasteurized cheeses, milk or juices
  • limiting your exposure to animals that may carry certain parasites (such as avoiding changing a cat's litter box)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.