Smoking and HIV/AIDS

For years there have been a variety of claims regarding the effect of smoking on HIV/AIDS. Some believe that smoking has reduced the CD4 count or increased viral load. Others suggested that smoking hurt their overall health, making them more prone to infections and illness. A number of studies have been done of the effect smoking and HIV/AIDS have on each other, and while there is still much to be learned, a number of questions have been answered.

Does Smoking Increase the Risk of HIV Infection?

In 2007 an article in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases reviewed all the studies on smoking and HIV transmission Five of the six studies the reviewed found that ‘smoking is an independent risk factor,’ meaning that people who smoke are at an increased risk of getting HIV because they smoke.

The studies did not agree on how much risk smoking creates, or suggest any reason for the increased risk. It may be that the damage smoking does to the lungs puts more strain on the body and makes it harder to fight off infection.

Does Smoking Speed the Progression of AIDS?

No. The same article reviewed ten studies on the effect smoking has on AIDS progression, and found that there was no effect. Smoking doesn’t speed the progression of AIDS, and quitting smoking will not slow the progression. There is no change in viral load or CD4 count caused by smoking.

What Impact Does Smoking Have on the Health of People with HIV/AIDS?

A number of studies have examined various ways that smoking affects the health of people with HIV/AIDS. Here are some of the results:

Quitting smoking can make a big difference in health and quality of life for people with HIV/AIDS.

• Smokers with HIV/AIDS feel less well, have poorer physical function, more pain, less energy, and lower scores for cognitive function.

• Smoking reduced the effectiveness of potent antiretroviral therapy.

• Smoking doubles the risk of getting bacterial pneumonia (PCP).

• Smokers who are HIV positive are more likely to develop emphysema then HIV negative smokers.

• Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer.

• Smoking increases the overall risk of developing secondary infections in the chest.

• Smokers are more likely to develop mouth sores associated with HIV/AIDS.

The effect of smoking on potent antiretroviral therapy is especially concerning. While smoking may not on its own speed the progression of AIDS, if it is interfering with the effectiveness of medication for AIDS, the disease will progress faster.

Will Quitting Smoking Improve my Health?

Given all the problems that smoking can cause for people with HIV/AIDS, it is a fair bet that quitting smoking will improve the health and wellbeing of anyone fighting HIV/AIDS.

Even people who do not smoke are at risk, as second hand smoke can cause many of the same problems. People with HIV/AIDS are encouraged to do everything they can to quit smoking, and to avoid being around people who smoke. Quitting smoking is not easy; it takes an average of three to four tries for a smoker to quit permanently. Even if a smoker cannot /quit ‘cold turkey’, cutting back and reducing the number of cigarettes per day may help improve health and reduce the chance of secondary infections.

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