Aren’t AIDS and HIV infection the same disease? The difference is here…

HIV infection and AIDS (AIDS) are related, but not the same.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (a disease that can develop years after the virus infects the body) and weakens the body’s immune system.

Not all people with HIV will develop AIDS, but without antiretroviral treatment, HIV infection can progress to AIDS.

According to the World Health Organization, the disease has an incubation period of 10-15 years.

Many people living with HIV do not know they are infected. Of the roughly 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, about 160,000 are undiagnosed and therefore unaware they are infected. This population cannot receive effective treatment until a blood test confirms the infection and seeks medical attention.

There are approximately 38,000 new HIV infections in the United States each year.

In 2016, there were 36.7 million people living with HIV worldwide.

Image source: Zhanku Hailuo

I. Basic knowledge of HIV

HIV stands for “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”.

“Immunodeficiency” is when the body’s system to fight disease is not working properly.

CD4 cells or T cells in the immune system keep the body healthy. HIV attacks these cells, and the HIV virus keeps replicating, causing the number of CD4 cells in the body to drop.

A body that lacks the protection of CD4 cells is more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections. Antiretroviral therapy, which can prevent the destruction of CD4 cells.

HIV can be infected by direct contact with an infected person:



vaginal discharge;

Breast milk.

The most common ways the virus spreads from person to person are as follows:


Share needles;

Mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy.

People with HIV often say that their symptoms are similar to having the flu. Early symptoms include:




Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and groin area.

If you have similar symptoms and may have recently been exposed to HIV, you should seek medical attention and get tested for HIV.

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2. Basic knowledge of AIDS

AIDS is also known as “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.” Without treatment, HIV infection can progress to the disease.

There are approximately 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States. In 2016, approximately 18,000 people were diagnosed with AIDS. AIDS is the third and most advanced stage of HIV infection.

AIDS patients have either never been diagnosed with HIV or are not receiving early-stage drugs that can stop the disease from progressing.

Doctors monitor the amount of virus in people with HIV. And infected people may hear the term “viral load”. Doctors use two indicators to determine whether the course of the disease has progressed to AIDS:

CD4 cell counts in HIV-infected individuals. A healthy immune system has a CD4 cell count of 500-1600 cells per microliter of blood, while AIDS patients have a CD4 cell count of less than 200 cells per microliter of blood.

AIDS-defining infections, also called opportunistic infections, usually occur in people with CD4 cell counts below 200. Even viruses, bacteria, or fungi that don’t normally make healthy people sick can make people sick with HIV.

The time it takes for HIV to progress to AIDS varies from person to person. Without treatment, HIV-infected people can survive with the virus before the onset of AIDS 10-15year. And if treated, HIV-infected people may not develop AIDS for life.

Once you have AIDS, you will always be sick. However, if patients receive antiretroviral therapy, they can still live for a long time.

AIDS warning signs include:

Sudden weight loss;

Night sweats;

recurrent fever;

feeling tired for no reason;

The diarrhea persists for more than a week;

Oral, perianal, or genital ulcers;


A rash on the skin, mouth, nose, or eyelids;



Image source: Zhanku Hailuo

Third, treatment

Over 25 drugs are approved to treat HIV. You may hear this class of drugs called “antiretroviral drugs.” Your doctor will prescribe a combination of these drugs for antiretroviral therapy (or ART).

People living with HIV take medicines that help prevent the virus from replicating, keeping people healthy and reducing the risk of spreading it to others.

The goal of antiretroviral therapy is to reduce the viral load in people living with HIV.

This treatment does not completely eliminate HIV, but when administered correctly, the amount of the virus in the blood can be controlled and kept below detectable levels.

Now that people living with HIV have improved longevity and quality of life compared to the past, patients need to stick to their treatment plans.

*The content of this article is for the popularization of health knowledge and cannot be used as a specific diagnosis and treatment suggestion, nor can it replace the face-to-face consultation of a licensed physician, and is for reference only.

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