T cell immunodeficiency can occur as one of a group of primary disorders or develop secondary to chronic infection, illness or drug therapy. Primary T cell disorders are rare, accounting for approximately 11% of reported primary immunodeficiencies, and generally present in infancy or early childhood. Early recognition is very important as many of these patients will require bone marrow transplantation prior to the onset of severe infection or other complications. Because of their rarity, these infants usually present to clinicians who have little or no prior experience of these conditions, and therefore laboratory-based clinicians with knowledge of the key laboratory/pathological abnormalities and clinical features have a valuable role in identifying the possibility of immunodeficiency. Secondary T cell deficiency is a cardinal feature of HIV infection and the specific susceptibility to infectious micro-organisms is highlighted. The possibility of T cell immunodeficiency should be considered in any patient presenting with unusual or severe viral, fungal or protozoal infection.
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