Current evidence indicates that the length of survival for patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is increasing, thereby affording a greater opportunity for strategies designed to prevent the infectious diseases that mark the syndrome. Because these infections may occur at different stages of immunosuppression caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), effective application of preventive measures depends not only on detection of HIV infection but also on the use of staging indicators. The diseases that serve to define AIDS, such as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, tend to occur late in the course of HIV infection and often when the T helper lymphocyte (CD4+ cells) count is less than 0.2 x 10(9)/l. Other infections, such as tuberculosis and pyogenic bacterial pneumonia, may develop at any point after HIV infection has occurred. Given this relation between the degree of immunosuppression and the occurrence of particular pulmonary infections, different preventive interventions should be applied at different times. It is now known that the incidence of several of the pulmonary infections that are common in patients with HIV infection can be reduced by prophylactic measures. Pneumocystis pneumonia is decreased in frequency by any one of several prophylactic agents, the best established being pentamidine administered as an inhaled aerosol. The role of isoniazid in the chemoprophylaxis of tuberculosis in patients not infected with HIV is well established. Although there is little evidence of benefit so far from isoniazid in HIV infected patients with a positive tuberculin skin test response, it is logical to assume that there could be some effect. The use of pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine may also be of some benefit in reducing the frequency of pneumococcal pneumonia in patients with AIDS. In addition to these specific measures, the antiretroviral agent zidovudine decreases both the frequency and the severity of opportunist infections, at least during the first few months of treatment. A comprehensive strategy for prevention of HIV associated lung infection first requires detection of HIV seropositivity, staging the immunosuppression by the CD4+ cell count, and determining whether tuberculous infection is present by a tuberculin skin test. All seropositive individuals should be given pneumococcal vaccine and those with evidence of tuberculosis infection should be treated with isoniazid for one year. Zidovudine should probably be started when CD4+ cell counts are in the range 0.4-0.5 x 10(9)/l and prophylaxis against pneumocystis infection when CD4+ cell counts are in the range 0.2-0.3 x 10(9)/l.
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