What is HIV? What is AIDS?

HIV is a virus that affects the immune system – or the body’s ability to fight infections. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. A syndrome refers to a collection of symptoms or illnesses – it does not refer to one specific disease.

People living with HIV may progress to an AIDS diagnosis as a result of a breakdown in their immune system. An AIDS diagnosis can occur when a person acquires specific opportunistic infections (infections that specifically affect people with a lowered immune system), or when their CD4 count drops below a certain point. A CD4 count refers to a medical laboratory result used to measure the amount of T-cells (or fighter cells) in someone’s body. People with HIV may have a lower CD4 count than people without HIV. Medications and treatment can help raise a person’s CD4 count to normal levels, ensuring a stronger immune system and better ability to fight infections. Due to advances in medical care and treatment, people living with HIV have nearly the same life expectancy as the average adult in most populations.

Just because a person has HIV does not mean they will be diagnosed with AIDS. HIV can affect every person differently, so it is extremely important for people living with HIV to connect with a physician who can monitor their health and recommend the best treatment regimen. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for people living with HIV. Treatment plans are very individualized between a person living with HIV and their doctor. Any medical questions or concerns should always be addressed with a physician.