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HIV/AIDS-related skin conditions

People with HIV/AIDS have a higher risk of developing skin conditions because the virus affects the body's ability to fight off infections. These infections include:

Thrush

Thrush is an infection of the mouth caused by the candida albicans fungus, also known as a yeast. A common sign of thrush is the presence of creamy white, slightly raised patches in your mouth - usually on your tongue or inner cheeks - but also sometimes on the roof of your mouth, gums, tonsils or back of the throat. The lesions, which may have a ‘cottage cheese’ appearance, can be painful and may bleed slightly when you scrape them or brush your teeth.

Candida infections can spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs, liver and skin. This happens more often in people with cancer, HIV or other conditions that weaken the immune system. The symptoms may be more severe and difficult to manage in those with weakened immune systems.

To treat thrush, your doctor may prescribe antifungal medications (tablets, lozenges or liquids), which are generally taken for 10 to 14 days.

Kaposi's sarcoma

Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is a form of cancer that occurs on the skin and in mucus membranes (for example the moist inner lining of the mouth, nasal passages, and vagina). It occurs among people who have HIV/AIDS.

KS appears as purplish lesions on the skin. Because of the weakened immune system caused by AIDS, KS can spread quickly to other parts of the body, including major organs such as the liver or lungs.

KS can be treated with surgery (cutting out the lesion and surrounding skin), chemotherapy (drugs that kill cancer cells), radiotherapy (high doses of x-rays or other radiation), or biological therapy (using the body's own resources to boost the immune system).

Oral hairy leukoplakia

Oral hairy leukoplakia is an infection that appears in the mouth as white lesions on the bottom or sides of the tongue. Oral hairy leukoplakia may be one of the first signs of HIV/AIDS. The infection is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.

Oral hairy leukoplakia lesions may be flat and smooth or raised and furry (hairy). The lesions do not cause pain or discomfort, so they are usually not treated. The condition resolves on its own, but can recur frequently. If necessary, oral hairy leukoplakia can be treated with aciclovir, an anti-viral medication that treats herpes.

Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is an infection that is marked by smooth white or flesh-coloured bumps on the skin. It is caused by a virus and is contagious.

This condition is not serious, and the bumps often resolve on their own without treatment. However, in people with HIV infection whose immune systems are functioning poorly, the infection can become chronic and progressive. If necessary, the bumps can be removed by a doctor by scraping or freezing. Drug treatments may include podophyllotoxin or imiquimod cream.

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