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Cold and Flu Center

Common Cold Risks for the HIV Positive

author image Juliet Wilkinson
As a bachelor's-prepared registered nurse with more than 15 years of diversified experience, Juliet Wilkinson innerves our health-conscious population through expert articles. She is a motivated professional who believes that preventive care is the first step towards health and well-being.
Common Cold Risks for the HIV Positive
The common cold can pose serious health risks to people with HIV.

More than 1 million people in the United States have HIV and must take common cold risks into consideration to maintain their health. HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, attacks the immune system by binding with cells responsible for fighting infections in the body. When the immune system is not functioning properly, even the common cold poses a health risk.

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The common cold is highly contagious and usually stems from a viral infection. In people with healthy immune systems, symptoms of the cold will dissipate within a week as the immune system fights the virus. Depending on the advancement of HIV on the immune system, those who are HIV positive might develop bacterial infections from a chronic cold. These infections could include pneumonia, or an infection in the lungs, and bronchitis, or the infection of the main breathing tube.

Chronic Symptoms

When the immune system is busy fighting the HIV infection, it often does not have the resources to fight symptoms of the cold. Runny noses and chronic coughs can follow the initial cold in those who are HIV positive because of the inability to clear the mucous from respiratory passages. Most physicians will not prescribe antibiotics for these long-suffered symptoms because they are the product of the body’s inability to fight the virus as opposed to a bacterial infection.


The common cold can sometimes be confused with influenza. The dangers of influenza on those with weakened immune systems can be life-threatening. People who are immunocompromised, such as those with HIV, do not have the physical resources to fight opportunistic influenza infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the HIV-positive population is at risk of complications to the heart and lungs from flu infections.

Cold Prevention

The best way to avoid these common cold risks is to not catch a cold virus. Prevention starts with hand-washing. Hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and water before eating food, drinking and before and after restroom use. According to, hand sanitizers and gels are unreliable methods of washing hands because they might not kill the rhino virus, an agent for common colds. People with HIV should keep their distance from anyone who is sneezing, coughing or appears ill because cold viruses are highly contagious before and after these symptoms appear. The cold virus gains access to the body through the mouth and nose, so avoid touching your mouth, nose and face.

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