Can I Be Healthy with Low T Cells?

Dear Christine,

I tested HIV positive in 1989 and was diagnosed ďpre-AIDSĒ because of my T cell count. I took AZT for less than a year and did the cocktails for about 18 months starting in 1996.

Throughout the years, whether Iím on or off the anti-retrovirals, my T cells stay between 250 and 350. Besides drug side effects and a couple bad colds, I havenít had any real health issues. But all the doctors tell me that my T cell count puts me on the verge of getting AIDS. If thatís true, Iíve been on the verge for 15 years.

I think my T cell count might be naturally low. Maybe itís been this way all my life. Is it possible to be healthy and have low T cells? What percent of HIV positives with low T cells are healthy?

Thanks for a second opinion,

Jamie D

Dear Jamie,

No one knows how many HIV positives with low T cells are or stay clinically healthy. Since a T cell count of 200 or less automatically puts people who test positive in the AIDS category, thereís no research that asks how many are clinically well (no actual symptoms or illness) or how long they stay that way. Any HIV positive with one T cell count of 200 or less is labeled an AIDS case, a ďprogressorĒ or as having ďadvanced HIV diseaseĒ and the current system does not allow them to be recognized as healthy even when they are.

Going strictly by the numbers is not a scientifically sound policy given that there is no published data comparing T cells in matched groups of HIV negative and HIV positive individuals with and without AIDS risk factors. Also, HIV negative persons have been noted to have persistent low T cell counts, some that dip below the level that qualifies for AIDS.

Interestingly, the well-known UK AIDS expert Dr Brian Gazzard once reported finding his own T cell count at 350, about the same as yours. You can bet this would be considered a concerning number if he were HIV positive, but heís not.

Until AIDS researchers publish data on T cell counts from long-term controlled studies comparing HIV positive and HIV negative matched cohorts, I donít see why we should regard those numbers as absolute indicators or predictors of health, especially when they conflict with obvious well being.

Take care,


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