By now you would have become familiar with the term ‘CD4 cell-count’, or the T-Lymphocytes (T-cells). But have you ever asked your doctor what this means?
Whether called T-cells or CD4-cells, these ‘helper cells’ are a key measure of the health of the immune system, and lead the attack against infections.
Why take a CD4 cell-count?
The higher the CD4 cell-count of Person Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV), the better it is for him, while a lower count is an indication that HIV would have done greater damage within the individual. CD4 counts are also used to indicate when to start certain types of drug therapy.
Do not let anyone tell you that the use of this term is too complicated for you. The minute you test positive (for HIV), it is your right to know to what extent the virus is affecting your health. The only way you can know this for sure is by finding out; knowing what your CD4 cell-reading is. Ideally, a CD4 reading should be done every three months, but some resource-poor countries allow testing every six months.
After a ‘positive’ result, your counselor/tester or your clinician would next consider having you take a CD4 cell-count. This is important since the fact that you have only just discovered that you have HIV does not necessarily mean that you only recently contracted it. Very many persons, for fear of receiving a sero-positive result, keep deferring taking the test and eventually do not go to have one done until they begin feeling sick, or getting a lot of the symptoms of HIV.
It is for this reason that we suggest the sooner one takes the HIV test, the better – regardless of how you feel.
It is important, too, for you to know and understand the symptoms of HIV. HIV is placed into two categories: Asymptomatic, the early stages of the infection where the person displays no symptoms. Then there is the symptomatic stage where visible signs of the infection appear.
The early symptomatic infection is that stage where the first symptoms of a weakened immune system occur. Common conditions include: Fungal infections of the mouth or other mucosal surfaces, e.g. oral thrush; shingles, excessive bruising and bleeding; bacterial pneumonia; tuberculosis; chronic fatigue; fever and weight loss and chronic diarrhea. These may persist for several months in PLHIV.
Late symptomatic infection: This stage officially constitutes the condition called AIDS, and is defined by a blood test that confirms a low number of immune cells (less than 200) or by the presence of various other complications. Whenever the CD4 cell-count is this low, it means that conversely, the viral load (which measures the amount of the viral is the blood) is high. This is because the weakened immune system is not able to control the infection. As the viral load increases, so, too, does the risk of transmission of the virus to other persons increase.
The following levels of CD4 cell-counts indicate the various conditions:
500-1400 : This represents the average normal count in a healthy HIV-negative
Less than 500: This means that the person’s immune system is damaged
Less than 350: This means that the damage is moderately severe
Less than 200: This means that the damage is severe, and the patient is officially considered as having AIDS.
Less than 50: This means that the disease is advanced, and damage my be
Hope this information has been of help to you.
Meanwhile, if you have further questions or observations, or would like to share experiences with us, feel free to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail your letters to: HIV/AIDS Mailbox, Guyana Chronicle, Lama Avenue, Bel Air Park, Georgetown.