Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. This makes it hard for the body to fight infection and disease. HIV causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the last and most severe stage of the HIV infection.

HIV attacks and destroys a type of white blood cell called CD4+ cells, or helper cells. These cells are an important part of the immune system.

Your child has AIDS when one or both of the following are true:

  • Your child's CD4+ cell count is very low.
  • Your child gets certain infections or cancers that are usually only seen in people who have problems with their immune system.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine.
  • Be sure your child gets the vaccines and medicine needed to prevent infections such as pneumonia or tuberculosis.
  • Learn more about HIV and AIDS so you and your child can be active in health care decisions.
  • Join a support group. These let you and your child share experiences and seek support from other children and caregivers in the same situation.
  • Be sure your child eats a healthy, balanced diet. This keeps the immune system as strong as possible.
  • Be sure that your child exercises regularly. This can reduce stress, increase energy, and lift your child's mood.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has seizures.
  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has severe shortness of breath.
  • Your child has new, sudden weakness or a change in feeling in an arm, a leg, or on one side of his or her body.
  • Your child cannot move part of his or her body.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has shortness of breath.
  • Your child has a cough that brings up mucus (sputum) from the lungs.
  • Your child has an ongoing headache.
  • Your child has changes in vision.
  • Your child has personality changes or a decline in mental skills. These may include feeling confused or disoriented, or not being able to do mental tasks that he or she could do in the past.
  • Your child has unusual sores on the skin or in the mouth.
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has ongoing diarrhea.
  • Your child has abnormal bleeding, such as nosebleeds, bloody or black stools, rectal bleeding, or bloody or pink urine.
  • Your child has severe numbness or pain in his or her hands and feet.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child has increased outbreaks of cold sores.
  • Your child has sores, bumps, rashes, blisters, or warts in the genital or anal area.
  • Your child has swollen lymph nodes in his or her neck, armpits, or groin.
  • Your child has lost weight.
  • Your child has night sweats.
  • Your child feels very tired.

Where can you learn more?

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