What is the distinction between HIV vs AIDS?
On July 10, 2020, Neka Miller, PhD performed a medical review. Content published on the Everlywell blog is vetted by qualified individuals with expertise in medical and bioscience sectors to provide you with technically accurate, evidence-based information.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are inextricably linked, which may lead you to ask what the distinction is between the two.
The short answer is that HIV is a viral infection that, if not treated early enough, can lead to AIDS. AIDS is not the same as HIV, but rather a probable result of HIV infection.
Continue reading to learn more about HIV, AIDS, and their connections. (If you suspect you have HIV, consider being tested as soon as possible—you may do so from the comfort of your own home using the EverlyWell test listed above.)
HIV is explained.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that can cause considerable harm to immune system cells. An HIV infection, in essence, reduces your immune system’s ability to fight other infections and prevent disease.
How does HIV spread?
HIV can be transmitted by contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. The most common fluids that transmit HIV from person to person are blood, sperm, pre-seminal fluid, rectal/vaginal fluids, and breast milk. In the United States, HIV is typically transmitted through unprotected intercourse (vaginal or anal) and the sharing of drug injection equipment (such as needles) with an infected person. HIV can also be transmitted to children by mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
Untreated HIV infections frequently develop over time and lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. Although there is no cure for HIV, antiretroviral medication (ART) can decrease HIV replication and prevent it from developing to a more serious stage. ART is strongly advised for all HIV patients because it not only extends patients’ lives but also minimizes the danger of HIV transmission.
There are three stages of HIV infection: acute HIV infection, chronic HIV infection, and AIDS, which is the final and most dangerous stage.
HIV infection that isn’t chronic
Acute HIV infection (also known as primary infection) usually lasts 2-4 weeks following infection. The flu-like symptoms associated with this stage of HIV include fever, headache, sore throat, and rash. It is important to note, however, that not everyone with an acute HIV infection suffers symptoms, which means you can obtain HIV without even knowing it (unless you get tested).
During an acute infection, the risk of HIV transmission is particularly significant due to the high quantity of HIV in the bloodstream and vaginal fluids.
HIV infection that is chronic
The virus continues to grow in the body during a chronic HIV infection (or clinical latent infection), albeit at a low level. Many patients do not have any symptoms during the chronic stage, which can last ten or more years until the infection progresses to AIDS (unless HIV treatment is initiated before AIDS develops). In rare circumstances, the progression to AIDS may be more rapid.
Those who use ART may have persistent HIV for decades. However, the goal of ART is to lower HIV levels until the viral load is undetectable. This indicates that the HIV level in the blood is so low that a certain type of test known as a viral load test cannot detect it. As long as their viral load is undetectable, persons who are taking ART as prescribed by their healthcare provider have virtually minimal chance of spreading HIV to their partner through sexual intercourse.
AIDS is defined.
The most severe stage of HIV is AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). When HIV reaches this stage, the immune system has been so compromised by the virus that the body is no longer able to successfully fight infections. This, in turn, can contribute to the emergence of some malignancies (such as Kaposi’s sarcoma) and other disorders.
Fever, weight loss, and weakness are some of the symptoms of AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy, or ART, can lower the severity of AIDS and extend a person’s life. However, receiving AIDS medication is critical; unfortunately, without therapy, those diagnosed with AIDS often do not survive more than two years following diagnosis.
It is vital that an HIV infection be discovered as soon as possible so that life-saving HIV treatment can begin. Try our simple at-home HIV test kit to test for HIV in the comfort of your own home. Only a small amount of blood (taken via a simple finger prick) is necessary, and your results are easily accessible via our secure, online platform.