Sepsis and HIV/AIDS

HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. People who have AIDS have HIV, but people who have the virus do not necessarily have AIDS.

At the XVI International AIDS Conference in 2006, researchers said, “The final common pathway of untreated AIDS is progressive immunosupression over many years followed by an acute critical illness, usually sepsis, and death, often within 48 hours.” In other words, sepsis is the most common cause of death from AIDS and it occurs very quickly.

In a study published in 2020, researchers found that  for people living with HIV in the US and Canada, sepsis or infection was the top reason for hospitalization over the course of the study.

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and HIV/AIDS. 2024.

Updated January 19, 2024.


More About HIV/AIDS


HIV is a retrovirus that infects your cells, using their energy and nutrients to grow and spread. It attacks your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to infections and diseases. Some of these infections and diseases may only cause mild symptoms and discomfort to non-infected people, but they could be deadly for those who have the virus.

You may hear the term CD4 when people talk about HIV. CD4 cells are a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Their role is to help fight infection. As the virus progresses, the CD4 levels in your blood drop.

HIV medications work to keep the CD4 levels high enough that your immune system continues to work effectively.

The most common infections that affect people with low CD4 levels are pneumonia, Salmonella infection, candidiasis, toxoplasmosis, and tuberculosis (TB).

To learn more information on HIV and AIDS, please visit There you will find up-to-date information and links to organizations.

Connection to Sepsis

People with HIV/AIDS do get sepsis more easily than people who do not have the infection. For example:

  • HIV significantly increases the risk of contracting COVID-19 and is associated with worse outcomes (2021 study)
  • People with HIV who are Black, Hispanic, women, or transgender are much more likely to be hospitalized than white patients and cisgender men (2021 study)

Related Resources

Information Guide

Sepsis and HIV/AIDS

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Fred Hersch

(with permission from Fred, by Sepsis Alliance) Jazz music – soft, invigorating, soothing, loud, sudden, lingering. You can’t put a label onto jazz because it’s many things to many people. The artists who create the music differ as much as the music does and when we lose another musician, we lose the potential of more of their work. In 2008, we almost lost another artist, 54-year-old jazz pianist and composer Fred Hersch. Hersch, who has been living with HIV since the mid-1980s, had been relatively healthy until 2007, when he started feeling ill and then developed AIDS-related dementia. This started ... Read Full Story

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