What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV virus in blood stream

What is HIV?

HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

Human means that this virus only affects humans. Science suggests that HIV probably mutated from simians (SIV), but HIV is strictly a human virus.

Immunodeficiency means that the immune system is deficient, or compromised. The immune system is the system in our body that protects us from invading disease and infection. What makes HIV unique is that the virus attacks the immune cells themselves, making it harder for the body to fight off diseases and infections in the environment.

Virus is an infective agent that multiplies within the living cells of a host.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

Acquired means a person has to do something to contract the virus. Though it can be passed from mother to child, it is not passed genetically.

Immunodeficiency means the immune system is deficient, or compromised. When someone has an AIDS diagnosis, it often means that their immune system is heavily compromised, which makes fighting off diseases and infections harder.

Syndrome means a collection of symptoms.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV and AIDS are the same virus, but AIDS is a later, more progresses stage of the virus. To find out if you have HIV, you can get an HIV test from a trained social worker, volunteer, or doctor. This will tell you if you have contracted HIV. Then your doctor will conduct more testing to see what stage of the virus you have. Only a doctor can diagnose someone with AIDS. To receive an AIDS diagnosis, one or both of these following things must be true:

1. A diagnosis of an Opportunistic Infection.
2. A T-cell or CD4 cell count that is 200 or below.

Opportunistic Infections are viruses, cancers, parasites, fungi, or bacteria that people with healthy immune systems can easily fight off. If your immune system is compromised to a large degree, it is possible to contract with one of these infections. It can be difficult to fight these off for people with heavily compromised immune systems, but not impossible, and many people do recover.

T-cells, or CD4 cells are one of the body’s primary immune cells. These are the cells that fight off disease and infection in our bodies. Because HIV infects these cells directly, they become unable to do their job. People with healthy immune systems will have between 500-1,200 T –Cells per a teaspoon of blood. For someone to be diagnosed with AIDS, they will have 200 or less. Having fewer immune system cells means that it becomes harder to fight off diseases and infections. Because HIV medication can be incredibly therapeutic, T-cell count can go back up and people can regain a “healthy” level of T-cells again.

When people die from this virus, they don’t actually die from the virus itself, they die from infections and diseases they couldn’t fight off because AIDS had weakened the immune system too much.

It can take many years for someone to develop AIDS; every person’s body and immune system responds differently. Many people may be asymptomatic before developing AIDS (though still infectious!). Because of that, it’s very important to get tested if you think you are at risk because it can be difficult to determine based on how you are feeling.

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