What’s the Actual Difference Between HIV and AIDS?

What’s the Actual Difference Between HIV and AIDS?

HIV/AIDS. The two go together. When you see them in the media, read about them online, or hear them on the news, it’s always HIV/AIDS.

But why do people say both? Doesn’t HIV mean AIDS? If you have HIV do you also have AIDS? Is HIV just a different way to say AIDS?  

All of these questions are valid. Especially when HIV and AIDS are used interchangeably. It might seem like the difference between the two doesn’t really matter, or one means the other. But that’s not true.

HIV and AIDS are not the same.

HIV is a virus. AIDS is a condition. But what does that actually mean?

HIV stands for “human immunodeficiency virus.” It’s a virus that can only infect humans and leads to the weakening of the immune system.  The immune system is the body’s system for fighting disease. When it’s compromised or weakened, a person becomes susceptible to all kinds of bacteria, viruses, or other agents that cause disease.

When HIV is left untreated, it can wreak havoc on a person’s immune system. As this happens, the body is less able to fight off infections. AIDS stands for “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome,” which means the immune system has been made less effective by HIV. When this happens, a person is considered to have an acquired immune deficiency, or AIDS.

HIV Doesn’t Always Mean AIDS

If you spaced out a little bit, or skimmed that last part, don’t worry. It’s a lot of jargon and terminology to keep track of. Basically, HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system. Once a person’s immune system is severely weakened, that leads to an AIDS diagnosis.

It’s important to note that you cannot have AIDS without being infected with HIV. But people can, and do, live long lives (on treatment) with HIV and never develop AIDS.

Because the term AIDS has historically been linked to negative misconceptions and beliefs, HIV has become a catch-all term for people living with AIDS. This is misleading because they’re different diagnoses, but it’s not technically incorrect. Someone with AIDS does have HIV. But a person who is HIV positive might not have AIDS.

So…When in Doubt Get Tested what?

The most important take away here is that HIV and AIDS are medically different diagnoses. The importance of early and consistent treatment can be the difference between being HIV positive and having AIDS. If you’re HIV positive, make sure you stay in consistent care, so your immune system does not weaken to the point of an AIDS diagnoses.

If you think you might’ve been exposed to HIV or that you could be HIV positive, get tested and go see your doctor right away. It’s important to catch HIV early so that you can begin treatment and prevent HIV from leading to AIDS.

About: AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is a global nonprofit organization providing cutting-edge medicine and advocacy to over 1,000,000 people in 43 countries. We are currently the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the world.