The names HIV and AIDS are often used interchangeably. However, there are some important differences between the two.
HIV is the much less cumbersome abbreviated name of Human Immunodeficiency Virus. As the name states, this is a virus, communicable from one person to another. This virus is transmissible only through direct contact with infected blood or reproductive fluids. The most common way HIV is spread is through unprotected sex or the use of contaminated needles for intravenous drugs. Infected women may pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy or breastfeeding. HIV attacks the immune system, the cells in the body that normally fight infections and viruses. As the virus breaks down the immune system itself, the immune system is unable to destroy the virus. There are medications designed to reduce the severity and slow the progression of HIV. Left unchecked, HIV may continue to damage the immune system until it reaches an irreparable state. This state is AIDS. Symptoms of HIV may be tricky. A patient may experience flu-like symptoms about two to four weeks following infection. The tricky part is that these symptoms then go away and the patient may feel perfectly normal for years.
AIDS is the acronymic form of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. This is a chronic condition and is not itself communicable. The underlying cause, HIV, may be passed from one person to another. AIDS itself does not cause noticeable symptoms, but it does make the body more susceptible to any number of infections. For instance, a patient with AIDS may not be able to fight off a cold, which may evolve into bronchitis or pneumonia. This patient would then experience respiratory symptoms.
HIV may lead to AIDS, but as medical science continues to advance, more and more patients are living long, healthy lives with HIV. A patient with HIV may never develop AIDS. However, the virus is not curable and will remain in an infected person for life, regardless of his/her AIDS status.
HIV can be detected with a simple blood test. Frustratingly, though, an HIV test may not be accurate for several weeks after infection. AIDS is more difficult to diagnose. A specific type of white blood cell is destroyed by HIV; an extremely low count of this cell type may contribute to an official diagnosis of AIDS. Susceptibility to opportunistic infections is also taken into consideration when diagnosing AIDS.
Smart life choices are the best way to protect oneself from contracting HIV. Practice safer sex – use condoms and make informed choices about sexual partners. Condoms are the only form of birth control that protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Using intravenous drugs is dangerous in many, many ways, one of which is the possibility of HIV infection. If you have reason to believe you have been exposed to HIV, get tested. The earlier the virus is detected, the better chance you have at a long, healthy life. Your doctor can order a test and many health departments offer confidential testing at low prices.