What’s the Difference Between HIV and AIDS?
HIV and AIDS are often talked about together, and sometimes people use these terms interchangeably. But HIV and AIDS aren’t the same thing, and not everyone who has HIV has AIDS. So, what’s the difference between the two?
HIV is a Virus
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, more specifically the CD4 T-cells of the immune system. CD4 T-cells are “helper” cells that trigger or activate the immune system to respond to and kill invaders.
HIV attaches to and kills CD4 T-cells so that it can replicate inside the body. By killing CD4 T-cells, HIV impairs the immune system’s ability to recognize HIV as an invader and get rid of it. Since HIV damages the immune system, it essentially interferes with the body’s ability to fight any infection.
Without treatment, HIV advances and gets worse over time. There is no cure for HIV, but treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow or even prevent HIV from advancing.
AIDS Is a Condition That Develops as HIV Progresses
AIDS stands for “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.” AIDS is the condition that patients develop when they have untreated, late-stage HIV that has severely damaged the body’s immune system. You cannot develop AIDS if you do not have HIV.
A person is considered to have AIDS when their CD4 T-cell count is less than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood, or if they develop a serious infection like tuberculosis, regardless of their CD4 T-cell count. A healthy CD4 T-cell count is between 500 to 1500 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.
It can take several years for someone with HIV to develop AIDS. If a person is infected with HIV but has not developed AIDS, this means that HIV has not yet severely impaired the immune system. If a person has developed AIDS, it means that their immune system is severely damaged and that they’re at risk of contracting an opportunistic infection (infections that are more frequent or severe in people with a weakened immune system).
Patients who have developed AIDS may be able to revert back to having HIV with antiretroviral therapy (ART). Not every person with AIDS will be able to revert back to HIV, because each HIV diagnosis is unique and influenced by many factors.
HIV Does Not Always Progress To AIDS
Without proper treatment, someone with HIV can develop AIDS in as little as 10 years. Fortunately, antiretroviral (ART) treatment options are available to slow the progression of HIV. People who take ART every day as prescribed can lower their risk of, and maybe even prevent, developing AIDS. With ART, not as many people with HIV progress to AIDS as they have in previous years.
People with HIV who start ART soon after receiving a positive HIV status — who take their ART medications as prescribed and have regular follow-up appointments with their doctor — can live long, healthy lives without ever developing AIDS.
But many people in the US don’t know they have HIV. This is why getting tested is so important.
BLISS Health Specializes in HIV Testing and Treatment
At BLISS Health, we are dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV. We specialize in the testing, treatment, and prevention of HIV and other STDs. To learn more about doctors’ visits at BLISS Health, contact us online or call us at (407) 203-5984.
Learn how to become a patient and make an appointment here.