Living with HIV? Check out the patient's guide to HIV

Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection


HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is an infection that slowly weakens your immune system. The virus kills a type of white blood cell called CD4 cells. The loss of CD4 cells weakens your immune system. Over time, a weak immune system makes it difficult for you to fight infections. This can also lead to certain cancers and heart disease. When your CD4 count drops below 200, you have AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). This means your immune system cannot fight off infections and disease, and this can become life-threatening.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • HAART medicines used to treat HIV can cause many side effects. Common examples are liver failure, weakness, numbness in your arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some HAART medicines may raise your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. HAART medicines may not work, especially if you do not take them as directed. They may interact with other medicines you take and cause those medicines to fail. HIV increases your risk for heart or kidney disease, and some cancers. You are at risk for pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other infections. High blood pressure, blood clots, and broken bones are more common. Problems with memory, concentration, and judgment are common. You also have a higher risk for food poisoning.

  • With or without treatment, your CD4 count may drop below 200. When this happens, you have AIDS. This means your immune system cannot fight off infections and disease, and this can be life-threatening.


You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives caregivers permission to do the procedure or surgery. It also explains the problems that may happen, and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.


  • Antiretroviral medicines slow the progression of HIV. They are given in different combinations called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Your caregiver will decide what kind of HAART you need. You may need to make HAART changes if you have severe side effects or develop resistance to a medicine.

  • Antimicrobial medicines kill or prevent bacterial, viral, or fungal infections.

  • Antinausea medicine helps calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.

  • Preventative medicines may be given to protect you from opportunistic infections, such as toxoplasmosis, pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), and tuberculosis.


  • Your vital signs will be closely monitored to follow your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. 

  • Pulse oximetry measures the amount of oxygen in your blood.

  • Telemetry is continuous monitoring of your heart rhythm. Sticky pads placed on your skin connect to an EKG machine that records your heart rhythm.


  • Blood tests measure your CD4 count and viral load. A normal CD4 count ranges from 550 to 1000. If your CD4 count is lower than the normal range, your immune system has been affected by HIV. Viral load is the amount of HIV in your blood at any given time.

  • Tests for other infections may be done. It includes tests for toxoplasmosis, tuberculosis, and pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) which may be dangerous if you have an HIV infection. Ask your caregiver for more information about these illnesses.


  • Oxygen may be given if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be.

  • Reverse isolation is when you are put a room to protect you from other people's germs. This may be done if your body is having a hard time fighting infections. Caregivers and visitors may wear gloves, a face mask, or a gown when they are in the room.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection (Inpatient Care)