OBJECTIVE. The objective of this study was to establish the contribution that severe malnutrition makes to CD4 lymphopenia in HIV-infected and uninfected children and to determine the changes in CD4 count during nutritional rehabilitation.

METHODS. Fifty-six children with severe malnutrition and with and without HIV infection were recruited from a pediatric ward in Lusaka for measurement of CD4 counts on admission, on discharge, and at final nutritional recovery.

RESULTS. HIV-uninfected children with severe malnutrition had normal CD4 counts. In contrast, CD4 counts in HIV-infected children with severe malnutrition were reduced, more so in those without edema compared with those with edema. Mean CD4 count of HIV-infected SM children fell despite nutritional recovery so that at the time of full nutritional recovery, >85% of HIV-infected children required antiretroviral therapy.

CONCLUSIONS. Severe malnutrition did not reduce the CD4 counts of children without HIV. HIV-infected children with severe malnutrition may respond well to nutritional rehabilitation, despite low CD4 counts, but nearly all require early antiretroviral therapy to prevent disease progression.

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