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To determine the relationship between antiretroviral therapy and changes in prevalence and amount of oropharyngeal candidiasis (OPC) and skin test reactivity for delayed type hypersensitivity.Observational cohort.University-based public hospital AIDS clinic.Adults with advanced HIV infection who had been taking nucleoside transcriptase inhibitor drugs but had not taken a protease inhibitor and who started antiretroviral treatment with ritonavir.OPC lesions score, oral candidal colonization, oral candidal quantification, skin test reactivity for delayed type hypersensitivity (purified protein derivative, candidal and streptokinase antigens), plasma HIV RNA and CD4 cell count at weeks 8, 16 and 48 weeks.In the 99 patients who entered the study, there was a significant reduction in the HIV plasma RNA (mean log decrease from baseline at 48 weeks 0.88) and a significant increase in CD4 cell counts (mean CD4 cell increase from baseline at 48 weeks 128 × 106 cells/l). Only 17% of patients had < 200 copies/ml HIV RNA at 48 weeks. There were significant decreases in the prevalence of OPC lesions (31% at baseline to 1% at 48 weeks;P < 0.001), and in oral candidal loads [2226 to 811 colony-forming units (CFU)/ml;P = 0.0171]. The percentage of patients with at least one positive skin test increased significantly (6 to 28%;P < 0.05). Patients whose CD4 lymphocyte count was > 200 × 106 cells/l at 48 weeks had significantly lower oral candidal loads and were more likely to have a positive skin test than patients whose CD4 cell count was < 200 × 106 cells/l.In patients with advanced HIV infection, antiretroviral treatment including a protease inhibitor has a positive impact in the natural history of OPC. This positive impact appears to be correlated with a better immunological function and occurs despite continuous HIV replication.