Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
This guest post was written by Dr. Lisa Oldson, Medical Director for SexualHealth.com.
HIV and AIDS: What’s the difference?
‘HIV’ and ‘AIDS’ – seven little letters that have made a BIG impact on the world in the past three decades. The two acronyms are so closely associated, many think they’re the same thing.
Actually, they’re not.
Even though they’re mentioned in the same breath all of the time, there are some very important differences between the two.
Let’s talk about them one at a time, then compare.
HIV stands for ‘human immunodeficiency virus’. This virus attacks the immune system, which makes it hard to fight off disease. You can contract the human immunodeficiency virus in a number of ways – engaging in unprotected sex, coming in contact with the blood of an HIV-positive person, or drinking HIV-infected breast milk, to name a few.
Once you’re infected, the virus attacks your T-cells, which are a type of white blood cell. These important cells are tasked with marching through your bloodstream to help protect you against all sorts of illnesses and diseases.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, describes a condition in which a person’s immune system is significantly compromised, leaving it vulnerable to serious invaders like pneumonia, certain cancers and a host of other dangerous, deadly diseases and ailments. AIDS patients may suffer from significant and serious weight loss, dementia, tuberculosis, and/or a host of other complications.
If the T-cells under attack by the HIV virus are depleted to the point that the immune system can no longer defend itself against attacks by germs and illnesses, AIDS develops. The two acronyms are often inaccurately interchanged, because HIV can lead to AIDS. AIDS is the last stage of HIV’s progression, but it doesn’t always progress to that stage. Earlier in the epidemic, contracting the human immunodeficiency virus meant an automatic progression to AIDS for everyone.
Now, the good news:
The human immunodeficiency virus doesn’t automatically march into AIDS as it used to because of the development of highly effective treatments. Having HIV is no longer a death sentence, and even those with AIDS can be brought back to better health with treatment.
The tricky thing about HIV is also true of many other STDs: you can go a good, long time without symptoms. However, while you might feel healthy, your body may be quietly under attack by HIV, syphilis or any other sexually transmitted infection, and during that time, you run the risk of infecting others. The best line of defense is getting tested and, if the test comes back positive, starting your treatment regimen as soon as possible.
Catching the disease early, getting treatment and sticking to your regimen, and fine tuning your healthy lifestyle (increasing exercise, improving your diet, staying away from tobacco and alcohol) are all factors that can help an HIV+ person not only lead a long, healthy life, but also (with all of the positive changes) enjoy even better health than they did before their diagnosis.
Want to stay ahead of the game?
There are three steps that can help you mount a successful defense against HIV and its progression to AIDS:
- Get knowledge: Educating yourself is the best way to get and stay healthy. Visit our STD resources sections for websites boasting the latest HIV news and to look for additional information and advice.
- Get safer: Using condoms does not provide you with a 100%-guarantee of prevention from HIV or other STDs; however, it does greatly decrease your risk of getting infected. Use our sexual health tools to find condom locators, free condoms, and additional safer sex and STD prevention guidance.
- Get tested: A blood test provided by a medical professional is the best way to get reliable results. STD testing is an important step in fighting HIV. Knowledge is power and knowing your status is key to remaining sexually healthy.
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This guest post was written by Dr. Lisa Oldson, Medical Director for SexualHealth.com. SexualHealth.com offers fast, private and affordable STD testing. For more information about herpes and other STDs, you can watch their videos on their YouTube channel, like them on Facebook, circle them on Google+, or follow them on Twitter.
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Did this post help you discern the difference between the two acronyms? Do you still have questions about the human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome? Share you thoughts in the comments section below!