Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) results in progressive depletion of the CD4 subset T-lymphocytes and the development of opportunistic infections and certain malignancies. Charts were reviewed for 185 HIV-infected individuals with 265 AIDS-defining illnesses (ADIs) who had T-lymphocyte subset analyses performed within 2 months prior to or 1 month following the diagnosis. Also included were 22 HIV-infected patients with oral candidiasis and 20 with asymptomatic infection. Significant differences in CD4 lymphocyte numbers were observed between the 12 ADIs, oral candidiasis, and asymptomatic infection, allowing them to be grouped into five general categories, based on mean CD4 count: (a) asymptomatic infection, CD4 greater than 500/mm3; (b) oral candidiasis and tuberculosis, range 250-500/mm3; (c) Kaposi's sarcoma, lymphoma, and cryptosporidiosis, range 150-200/mm3; (d) Pneumocystis carinii pneumonitis, disseminated Mycobacterium avium complex, herpes simplex ulceration, toxoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, and esophageal candidiasis, range 75-125/mm3; (e) cytomegalovirus retinitis, less than 50/mm3. Our data concur with clinical impressions and provide a basis for interim treatment and prophylaxis recommendations.