Treatment training manual

5. 5 Candida and other skin problems

Type of infection

Candida is a fungal yeast infection.

It frequently affects the mouth and throat (oral candida), gullet (oesophageal candida), sinuses, genital organs and even the brain (this is rare).

Candida is also called thrush. It is very common in people with CD4 counts under 300 cells/mm3, and it becomes more common the lower the CD4 count drops.

Main symptoms

  • Oral thrush appears as white or red patches (especially in the mouth). These patches can sometimes be scraped off. Another symptom can be cracks at the corners of the mouth.
  • In the sinuses, thrush can cause headaches, difficulty breathing and a build up of mucus.
  • In the gullet it can make eating difficult and result in vomiting.


Visual examination for oral candida, swab sample for candida in other areas.


  • Diet changes – cutting down on foods that contain refined sugars and wheat.
  • Live, unpasteurised yoghurt that contains lactobacillus bacteria can help. This can be eaten for oral thrush. It can be applied directly to the vagina for vaginal thrush.
  • Antifungal medications: co-trimoxazole lozenges, nystatin or itraconazole syrup, fluconazole oral solution, miconazole patch (for the inside of the mouth), ketaconazole, fluconazole and itraconazole tablets (fluconazole may be better if using rifampicin for TB treatment).

If the CD4 counts increase in response to HIV treatment (ART), thrush should occur less often – and can stop completely.


Drugs are rarely used for prophylaxis in people who may get candida but who have no symptoms. This is because the risks of side effects and drug resistance usually outweigh the benefits of protection.


There are several experimental treatments that may help people who develop resistance to existing antifungals.

Other skin problems

Minor skin problems can be one of the first symptoms of HIV and are an indication that CD4 count is less than 300 cells/mm3.

Often these are relatively minor, like dry skin. But they can also be from an infection that your immune system is no longer strong enough to fight.

Last updated: 1 January 2016.