Bacterial infections that may be related to impaired phagocyte function often develop in patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). We examined the oxidative capacity of circulating phagocytes in 78 HIV+ patients and 31 control subjects by measuring chemiluminescence with a whole blood assay. Phagocytes were stimulated with zymosan opsonized with human complement (hC-OPZ) or immunoglobulin (hl-OPZ) with or without exogenous primers. Patients with CD4+ < 500/µL showed reduced whole blood chemiluminescence at maximal opsonin receptor (MOR) activity after priming in response to hC-OPZ relative to control subjects, and the difference was significant for patients with CD4+ < 100/µL. Patients had lower absolute phagocyte counts; however, the chemiluminescence activity calculated per phagocyte count was significantly depressed in advanced HIV infection, indicating the impairment of phagocytic cell function and a reduction in number. Data were similar when hl-OPZ was used as a stimulus. The chemiluminescence of unprimed phagocytes at circulating opsonin receptor (COR) activity relative to maximally primed phagocytes (COR/MOR ratio) was significantly higher for HIV+ patients as compared with control subjects and indicates a defect in phagocyte priming. Alternatively, the phagocytes do not increase chemiluminescence with priming because they have already been primed or activated in vivo. In late-state disease, decreased opsonin receptor-dependent respiratory burst activity contributes to the risk of secondary bacterial infections.