hidden from the immune system. As with any infectious agent, HIV presents its proteins to the immune system, which develops antibodies against it. This antibody production, however, is hampered by the fact that HIV mutates rapidly, changing the proteins it displays to the immune system. With each new protein, the immune system must generate new antibodies to fight the infection. Thus, an HIV infection is a dramatic balance between a replicating, ever changing virus and the replenishing stores of T cells that are fighting it. Unfortunately, the immune system, without therapeutic intervention, eventually loses the battle.
Once the CD4 T cells are depleted, the immune system can no longer ward off the daily bombardment of pathogens that all human organisms experience. Common infectious agents thus overwhelm the system, and HIV patients become susceptible to a variety of "opportunistic" diseases that take advantage of the body's reduced ability to fight them off. AIDS doctors report at least twenty-six different opportunistic diseases specific to HIV infection. These include unusual fungal infections such as thrush. The chickenpox virus may come out of dormancy, manifesting itself as the painful disease known as shingles. An obscure form of pneumonia, called pneumo-cystis pneumonia, is also common in AIDS patients. In addition, patients can acquire cancers such as B-cell lymphoma, which is a cancer of the immune system. Doctors generally consider patients with fewer than 200 CD4 T cells per cubic milliliter of blood as having AIDS. (In contrast, a healthy person counts more than 1,000.)
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