What Are HIV and AIDS?
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Understanding HIV and AIDS

Published on Nov 27, 2017 and last reviewed on Jul 14, 2023   -  4 min read


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome are two different entities, often misunderstood to be one. This article will discuss HIV and AIDS in detail.

Understanding HIV and AIDS

What Is HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system by destroying a type of white blood cells (called CD4 cells) by making copies of itself inside these cells. As the primary function of these CD4 cells is to defend the body from illnesses, it gets progressively harder for a person affected by this virus to fight off even minor infections and diseases, let alone cancer.

What Are a Few Facts About HIV?

  • HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and is the most common sexually transmitted infection.
  • It is a virus that weakens the immune system and decreases the ability of a person to fight an illness or a disease.
  • There is currently no known cure for HIV. Once you get the virus, you have it in your body for a lifetime.
  • But, it can be well-controlled with antiretroviral therapy (ART), and it has considerably reduced the number of deaths due to HIV infection.
  • HIV can spread via contact with blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, anal fluid, or breast milk of an infected individual. Though it mostly transmits through sexual contact, there are cases where the infection transmits through the usage of objects used by the infected person like a used razor, etc.
  • HIV is not transmitted via sweat, saliva, or urine, which means you cannot get HIV by shaking hands, hugging, or touching a person with HIV.
  • HIV often spreads during unprotected sex with an infected individual, sharing needles with drug abusers, or from mother to baby during childbirth or lactation.
  • When HIV infection is left untreated, it can progress to AIDS.

What Is AIDS?

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) refers to a set of symptoms caused by HIV. To determine if the person has AIDS, the criteria is a CD4 cell count of fewer than 200 cells per mm 3. The same would range between 500 to 1,600 cells in a normal healthy individual. Without treatment, HIV worsens in three stages: acute HIV infection, clinical latency, and finally, AIDS.

What Are a Few Facts About AIDS?

  • AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
  • It is the final stage of HIV infection.
  • It manifests as a set of typical symptoms and specific illnesses.
  • It can be prevented by taking the ART properly.
  • If left untreated, it can progress to death in a period of one to three years.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of HIV?

  1. Fevers and chills.
  2. Joint pain.
  3. Fatigue and malaise.
  4. Rashes.
  5. Sore throat.
  6. Night sweats.
  7. Enlarged lymph nodes.
  8. Mouth ulcers.
  9. Rapid weight loss.

What Are the Various Ways to Diagnose HIV?

Research shows that the earlier the HIV is detected, the sooner the ART therapy can be started, and the better will be the viral load control and hence, the quality of life. So, regular testing for HIV is important. Knowing your HIV status is also necessary to prevent spreading the infection to others.

  • HIV Antibodies Test (ELISA and Western Blot): If you are to be screened for HIV for various purposes (job, blood donation, or after possible low-risk exposure), an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) is the first test your doctor would order for you. If there is an HIV-positive result on the ELISA, your doctor would then order a more sophisticated test such as the western blot test for confirmation. This type of test is accurate only three months after a possible exposure as it takes that long for the immune system to produce enough antibodies at a level that can be detected by the test.
  • Antigen/Antibodies Test (Combo Test): This test detects not only the antibodies produced by the body in response to the virus but also the p24 antigen, which is a part of the virus itself. So, it is reliable when done one month after the exposure as p24 is present in blood in high concentrations a few weeks after exposure.
  • HIV Nucleic Acid Test (RNA PCR): This test detects the actual viral load. It is an expensive test that is not routinely ordered for screening purposes but to detect the rate of replication of the virus in HIV-positive persons. This test is reliable as early as 10 days post-exposure.

How to Prevent HIV?

  • Apart from sexual abstinence, the only sure way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, is mutual monogamy (being in a committed relationship with a single person).
  • If that is not practical, using a male or female condom correctly every single time is the best method to prevent HIV.
  • Avoid high-risk sexual behavior such as unprotected genital, anal, or oral sex with a person whose sexual history you are unsure of.
  • Ensure the use of sterile needles every single time for drug shooting, body piercing, and tattooing.
  • Consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) if you are at high risk of being exposed to HIV (homosexuals and commercial sex workers).
  • Take post-exposure prophylaxis within three days after being exposed to HIV-infected persons.

Why Is There No Cure for HIV Infection?

HIV belongs to a group of viruses known as a retrovirus. The virus infecting an individual contains a DNA structure, which gets mixed up with the DNA of the host body. Thus, this mix-up makes it difficult to form a treatment plan. This is why there is no cure for HIV infection. But some medications can prevent viral multiplication in the host body. Antiretroviral drugs are given to prevent the multiplication of viruses, thereby reducing the viral load. It will enable the host’s immune system to repair itself. But this does not mean the infection can be permanently cured. Its complications can only be controlled.


Acquired immunodeficiency virus (AIDS) is a life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The only way out of this is prevention. Once infected, the damages are going to be permanent. No drugs can cure the infection completely due to DNA mixing up ability. Be aware and stay safe!

Frequently Asked Questions


In How Many Stages Is HIV Infection Segregated?

The four stages of HIV infections are:
- Seroconversion illness.
- Asymptomatic HIV.
- Symptomatic HIV.
- Late-stage HIV.


How Is HIV Different From AIDS?

HIV is a viral infection that multiplies and captures cells within the host. AIDS, on the other hand, is a syndrome (a group of symptoms) usually caused by a virus. HIV, over a period of time, depletes the immune symptom and may ultimately progress to AIDS.


What Is the Incubation Period of HIV?

HIV generally causes a short, flu-like period that usually occurs 2 to 6 weeks after infection. HIV then remains asymptomatic for several years. The symptoms last for about 1 to 2 weeks, and then the features settle down. During the next several years of being asymptomatic, the virus remains active and multiplies. This period can be as long as a decade when the immune system gets progressively damaged, after which HIV can lead to AIDS.


What Does an HIV-Infected Person Feel Like?

During the first month of being infected with HIV, people may feel feverish, achy, and sick, basically flu-like. These symptoms usually last for a few weeks, after which the symptoms settle down.


Is There a Permanent Cure for HIV?

Currently, there is no widely available permanent cure for HIV, but the symptoms can be controlled with a management protocol. ART (anti-retroviral therapy) is the most popular treatment method. In mid-2022, a permanent treatment cure was introduced in Israel where a single injection containing genetically engineered B-lymphocytes secrete HIV-neutralizing antibodies in the body. By 2025, the research is expected to progress in gene and cell therapies.


What Is the Effect of AIDS on the Body?

AIDS, basically, kills the immune system making it difficult to fight off infections. A suppressed immune system makes the body vulnerable to opportunistic infections, like tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, and pneumonia, which makes various organs dysfunctional.


What Happens to a Person With HIV Infection?

Initially, HIV presents as flu which usually lasts for less than a month. Untreated, HIV turns into AIDS over a decade by attacking and taming the immune system.


What Are the Facts About HIV?

Some of the facts about HIV are
- Anyone can get HIV.
- HIV has caused more than 4 million deaths till now.
- One can have HIV and not be aware of it.
- Prevention of HIV is essential.
- HIV is controlled by antiretroviral therapy (ART).
- All kinds of contacts are not infectious.
- HIV can infect both sexes.
- HIV is a complex disease.
- HIV home-test kits are available.


What Is the Consequence of Touching Used Condoms?

If someone has a cut on the hand, then it is theoretically possible to get HIV. But practically, HIV cannot transmit by touching as the virus does not survive outside the body.


What Is the Importance of AIDS Awareness?

Increased AIDS awareness and preventive means can result in a decrease in infection rates as AIDS has caused deaths in the count of millions. Awareness also leads to a diagnosis of unaware individuals and can also prevent the progression of HIV to AIDS.


What Was the Old Term for AIDS?

In the 1980s, AIDS was known as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) because misconception, bias, lack of knowledge, and stigma forced an association of the condition with individuals with a same-sex sexual preference.


What Is the Positive Effect of Condoms on Men?

Condoms can make a man feel better by delaying ejaculation and preventing STDs (sexually transmitted diseases).


Is It Safe to Wear Three Condoms?

Wearing more than one condom is counteractive. Wearing even two condoms leads to friction between condoms and increases the risk of contraceptive failure by condom tears.


What Type of Infection Is HIV?

HIV is a viral infection caused by a group of viruses (lentivirus within the family of retroviridae) - a retrovirus. Untreated, HIV tames the immune system leading to AIDS.


How to Detect if Someone Is HIV Infected?

In the initial stages, HIV has signs like:
- Fever.
- Headache.
 - Muscle aches and joint pain.
- Rash.
- Sore throat and painful mouth sores.
- Swollen lymph glands, mainly in the neck.
- Diarrhea.
- Weight loss.
- Cough.
- Night sweats.
Individuals can test themselves with a commercially available HIV test kit. An absolute diagnosis is obtained by antibody tests, antigen/antibody tests, and nucleic acid tests (NAT).

Last reviewed at:
14 Jul 2023  -  4 min read




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