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After the virus enters the body there is a period of rapid viral replication, leading to an abundance of virus in the peripheral blood.During primary infection, the level of HIV may reach several million virus particles per milliliter of blood. This weakens the immune system and allows opportunistic infections.

The risk of acquiring HIV from a needle stick from an HIV-infected person is estimated as 0.3% (about 1 in 333) per act and the risk following mucous membrane exposure to infected blood as 0.09% (about 1 in 1000) per act.

Another group consists of those who maintain a low or undetectable viral load without anti-retroviral treatment, known as "elite controllers" or "elite suppressors".

They represent approximately 1 in 300 infected persons.

T cells are essential to the immune response and without them, the body cannot fight infections or kill cancerous cells.

The mechanism of CD4 T cell depletion, although apoptosis may also be a factor.

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