One common and constant battle among PLHIVs (People Living with HIV) is the challenge we face in either keeping or pulling up our CD4 count at a healthy and normal level. Here are some facts (from online sources) to what a CD4 is and its importance before we proceed.
“CD4 cells are a type of white blood cell that fights infection. Another name for them is T-helper cells. CD4 cells are made in the spleen, lymph nodes, and thymus gland, which are part of the lymph or infection-fighting system. CD4 cells move throughout your body, helping to identify and destroy germs such as bacteria and viruses.
The CD4 count measures the number of CD4 cells in a sample of your blood drawn by a needle from a vein in your arm. Along with other tests, the CD4 count helps tell how strong your immune system is, indicates the stage of your HIV disease, guides treatment, and predicts how your disease may progress. Keeping your CD4 count high can reduce complications of HIV disease and extend your life.”
“Your immune system contains different types of cells that help protect the body from infection. One of these types of specialized cells are called the CD4 or T-cells. HIV attacks these types of cells and uses them to make more copies of HIV. And in doing so, HIV weakens the immune system, making it unable to protect the body from illness and infection.”
“HIV most often infects CD4 cells. The virus becomes part of the cells, and when they multiply to fight an infection, they make more copies of HIV.
When someone is infected with HIV but has not started treatment, the number of CD4 cells they have goes down. This is a sign that the immune system is being weakened. The lower the CD4 cell count, the more likely the person will get sick.”
Thus, as mentioned above, the amount of CD4 cells are of important basis of a PLHIV’s health. The higher the number of CD4 cells in the system, the better. A normal CD4 count is from 500 to 1000 cells/mm3.
Here in the Philippines, a PLHIV is required to have his CD4 count checked every 6 months. When I was first diagnosed, my CD4 count was at 526 back in April 2010. It then went down to 385; I started taking medications when my CD4 hit 295. Six months after beginning ARV treatment, my CD4 went up to 589, it went up again last June to 687. During the time that my CD4 count hit below the 500 level, I did get sick; I got Pneumonia twice within three months, so yes, my immune system was already indeed weak and vulnerable as science says.
When I started ARV treatment, I really did not do anything radically different to help boost-up my immune system. No vitamins until now, no food supplements, no herbal treatments whatsoever. I just stayed happy as I usually am and learned to let go of things that would heighten my stress levels, because stress is a very big factor to our immune system’s decline. Although I do believe in another thing, that one can never be truly happy without being accepting of oneself, thus, living in denial is a health hazard.
Also, surround yourself with people who care. Remember, when you disclose to someone you know, it does not mean that they care or will do, some or most people are only curious of you and your condition despite of how much you trust them. So be wise on whom you disclose your status to.
I admit, I still do smoke, I figured that I’d rather psychologically de-stress with something that might kill me a few years from now, rather than not smoke at all and be stressed about it and than put my health in bigger jeopardy because of mental or emotional stress then it will kill me sooner because of a weakened immune system. However, despite of my now back smoking habits, I was still able to pull-up my CD4 count to normal, and still going higher. I know of many PLHIVs who have a hard time doing so, yes it is a case to case basis, but still, the point is, pulling it up to a normal level is indeed a big challenge every PLHIV face with or without any Opportunistic Infections they might have or roadblocks they might be facing.
Being happy is one thing, but being genuinely happy and thinking one is happy are two different things and there is a fine line between the two. Be genuinely happy, accept yourself and the things you can’t change, and let go of the extra baggage, embrace life and be alive.