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Are AIDS and HIV the Same Thing?

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A person can test positive for HIV without having AIDS.
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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 15 April 2014
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Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are not the same thing. AIDS and HIV are unquestionably related, yet different. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and a person may test positive for the presence of HIV in his or her bloodstream, yet not have AIDS. An HIV-positive individual may be diagnosed with AIDS at some later point in time or not at all.

To understand how the virus and the condition are related, it is necessary to understand how HIV infection works. Basically, the virus damages cells within the body’s immune system. The immune system is responsible for fighting off diseases and infections. As HIV does its work, more and more cells become damaged, and the immune system gradually loses its ability to ward off disease and infection.

HIV damages cells rather slowly. This is a major reason why making the distinction between AIDS and HIV is important. A person with the virus can appear and feel healthy for years before beginning to experience symptoms, and he or she may be completely unaware that he or she is infected. This is why testing is so important.

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AIDS can be described as the final stage of infection with HIV. Once the virus has weakened an individual’s immune system beyond a certain point, his or her body becomes more vulnerable to infections. Infections that often affect those with AIDS include certain types of pneumonia and cancers, and patients are also vulnerable to eye infections. Without the protection of the immune system, a person cannot fight off infections and could even die from a fairly common illness.

A key to the distinction between AIDS and HIV is the development of an AIDS defining illness. An AIDS defining illness is one that is very serious and opportunistic. Though such illnesses can occur in individuals who are completely free of the virus, they commonly, and often tragically, afflict those with AIDS. Such diseases include, but are not limited to, Kaposi's sarcoma, tuberculosis, cytomegalovirus, recurrent pneumonia, and wasting syndrome.

A medical professional’s diagnosis is required to differentiate between AIDS and HIV infection. As a positive HIV test result does not carry with it the automatic diagnosis of AIDS, healthcare providers use a range of clinical criteria in diagnosing AIDS. Many individuals use the terms interchangeably, however, leading to confusion among those who do not know the difference.

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Discuss this Article

burcidi
Post 10

@donasmrs-- I think that they both need to be concentrated on, but it makes more sense to work on HIV prevention. HIV prevention is cheaper because it can be done through educational programs on use of contraceptives and having only one partner. Educational programs don't cost that much.

AIDS prevention means medication to prevent HIV from developing to AIDS. Unfortunately, these medications cost a lot. If people keep getting infected with HIV, concentrating completely on AIDS prevention doesn't make sense.

In my opinion, HIV prevention is more important.

SteamLouis
Post 9

@KaBoom-- That's true. That's why it's important to be diagnosed early so that you can start treatment before HIV develops into AIDS.

Once it has turned into AIDS, then health deteriorates quickly. I get so upset when I hear about people who delayed getting tested because they were scared or ashamed or didn't think it could happen to them.

There is no set time frame for HIV developing into AIDS. It can happen in a few months or it can happen in ten years. But it's not worth the risk. The sooner you know, the sooner you can take charge of the situation.

donasmrs
Post 8

If the government was running a program for HIV/AIDS prevention, which would be better to concentrate on-- HIV or AIDS?

ceilingcat
Post 7

@JaneAir - That's an interesting idea, and I wonder if doctors are already working on something like that. HIV and AIDS can both be so devastating, I know a lot of research is being done to try and find some kind of cure.

JaneAir
Post 6

The article is right, a lot of people use the term HIV and the term AIDS interchangeably, even though they aren't really the same thing. AIDS is something that can happen at the later stages of having HIV, although, as the article said, sometimes people with HIV never develop AIDS.

As someone else said, the treatment for HIV and AIDS is getting a lot better. I wonder if eventually doctors will be able to find a way to stop people with HIV from getting AIDS. It still wouldn't be a cure for HIV, but that sounds like it would be better and more doable than curing it all together.

sunnySkys
Post 5

@KaBoom - You're right, HIV isn't an automatic death sentence these days because of better HIV and AIDS treatment options. That being said, it's still not desirable to get HIV, so everyone should still be careful and practice safe sex, and also get tested for HIV.

KaBoom
Post 4

@anon10348 - Wow that was really informative! Thanks for posting that. I actually had a friend call me the other day wondering about HIV testing and how long it takes the virus to show up. I didn't know, so I took to the Internet.

Anyway, it seems like there is a big difference between HIV and AIDS. Also, I read awhile ago that more and more people that get HIV are living longer without developing AIDS. Apparently all the drug cocktails they have out now are really helping people living longer and healthier lives even though they have HIV.

anon10348
Post 2

Actually, it's not the HIV virus that takes time to show up in blood. It's the antibodies that your body produces as a reaction to the virus that take time. Most commonly used HIV tests are those that test for antibodies and it takes anywhere from one to three months for there to be sufficient antibodies for a reliable reading. Six months is 100%.

There is another test out there (PCR-DNA) that can detect the virus (not antibodies, but the virus itself) in 10 days (95% accuracy) after infection. But this test is really expensive and there is risk of false positives.

anon2301
Post 1

How long does it take for the HIV virus to show up in some one's blood? some people say three (3) months while others say six (6) months what is the expectancy time?

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