What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. Most viruses can be controlled by the body’s immune system, however HIV targets and infects white blood cells in the body’s immune system that are crucial to helping the body fight illnesses. These white blood cells are CD4 cells or T-cells. Once infected, HIV takes over the CD4 cells and turns them into centers that produce thousands of copies of the HIV virus. As the virus replicates, it kills the CD4 cells; which weakens the immune system.
What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is the advanced stage of HIV infection, when a person’s immune system is severely damaged and has difficulty fighting diseases and certain cancers. Once an infected individual losses too many CD4 cells and are less able to fight off infection;they can develop serious, deadly infections. These are called opportunistic infections (OIs). When someone dies of AIDS, is is usually caused by OIs.
The Difference Between HIV and AIDS
A person does not have AIDS as soon as they are infected with HIV. A person can live with HIV for many years without signs or only mild symptoms. However, without treatment; HIV will eventually destroy the immune system to the point that they have a very low CD4 cell count and develop OIs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies someone as having AIDS if he or she is HIV+ and has one or both of the these conditions:
- At least one AIDS -defining condition or OIs
- A CD4 count of 200 cells or less ( a normal CD4 count is about 500-1,500)
People with AIDS can rebuild their immune system with the help of medication, however, even if their CD4 count goes back above 200 or an OI is successfully treated, the AIDS diagnosis remains.
How is HIV Spread?
There are many myths and rumors about how HIV is spread. Learn the facts.
HIV is spread through contact with the following body fluids:
- Blood (including menstrual blood)
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk
Methods of Transmission
The most common ways HIV is passed from person to person are:
- Re-using and sharing needles for injection drug use (including steroids and hormones)
- Unprotected/unsafe sex (no condoms or other barriers)
- Mother to child (during pregnancy, birth or breast- feeding)
HIV Cannot Reproduce Outside The Human Body. HIV IS NOT Spread By:
- Air or water
- Insects, including mosquitoes. Studies conducted by CDC researchers and others have shown no evidence of HIV transmission from insects
- Saliva, tears, or sweat. There is no documented case of HIV being transmitted by spitting
- Casual contact like shaking hands or sharing dishes
- Closed-mouth or “social” kissing
No one should become complacent about HIV and AIDS. While current medications can dramatically improve the health of people living with HIV and slow progression from HIV infection to AIDS, existing treatments need to be taken daily for the rest of a person’s life, need to be carefully monitored, and come with costs and potential side effects. At this time, there is no cure for HIV infection.
More detailed information on HIV/AIDS can be found here.
Sources: CDC, The Well Project