Food and water safety for people living with HIV

Key Points

  • Low CD4 count means that the immune system is weakened, and it is easier to catch infections.
  • People with a low CD4 should avoid eating raw meat, fish or poultry, and avoid eating products from unpasteurised milk.
  • Tap water is usually safe to drink, but if your CD4 count is below 100, boil water before drinking.

    If you have a strong immune system, your risk of getting food poisoning is no greater than it is for an HIV-negative person. However, there are precautions we should all take to prevent food poisoning.

    If you have a low CD4 cell count (under 200), you may be more vulnerable to food poisoning. Taking HIV treatment will help strengthen your immune system and reduce the risk of infections.

    Following general advice about the preparation, cooking and storage of food can also help reduce the risk of food poisoning.

    The following tips might be useful:

    • Cooked food should be kept in the fridge and eaten within two days. Portions should be frozen if you wish to keep them for longer than two days.
    • Make sure that food is thoroughly reheated if it has already been cooked.
    • Avoid food that is mouldy or has passed its sell-by date, and eggs that have cracked.
    • Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly.
    • Keep chopping and preparation surfaces clean.
    • Make sure that uncooked food is kept separate from cooked food.

    If you have a weakened immune system, you should also:

    • Avoid raw meat, raw fish, raw eggs, and undercooked chicken, other poultry or pork.
    • Avoid unpasteurised and blue cheeses (such as brie or stilton), and unpasteurised milk and yoghurt.
    • Avoid live yoghurt and probiotic drinks and supplements.

    Tap water in the UK is safe to drink and there really aren't any special considerations about the UK's drinking water for most people. But if you have a very low CD4 cell count, (under 100) a little more caution may be needed and it's a good idea to talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team about any steps you may need to take to make sure you don't acquire an infection from your drinking water.

    If you have a very low CD4 cell count, your doctor will advise you to start taking HIV treatment as soon as possible, to allow your immune system to recover. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to boil water before you drink it.

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