Once HIV is present in the body, it attacks important white blood cells in your immune system called lymphocytes, or T-cells. T-cells identify and destroy invading organisms in the body. Once attached to the T-cell, HIV multiplies and destroys the cell. When your body is deprived of enough T-cells, it can become very sick from infections that a healthy person’s immune system would normally fight off, such as colds, flu and other viruses.

Image reprinted, with permission, from Holds JB, Basic and Clinical Science Course, Section 7, American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2011-2012.

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Reviewed and updated by Dr. Robert H. Janigian, Jr. on March 1, 2015

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