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HIV and AIDS: Here's the Difference

HIV and AIDS: Here's the Difference

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has existed in the U.S. since at least the mid-1970s. Originally identified in African monkeys, HIV was transmitted to humans as far back as the late 1800s, who hunted them for their meat. After HIV infects a cell, it can program the cell to make more and more HIV. HIV then attacks the body’s immune system, specifically CD4 cells, which fights infection. 

Transmission: Certain body fluids contain HIV: blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. These fluids must come in contact with mucous membranes (rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth) or damaged tissue, or be directly injected into the bloodstream for transmission to occur:

·         Anal or vaginal sex

·         Sharing needles. HIV can live in a used needle up to 42 days

·         Less common: From mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding; By being stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle

·         Extremely rare: Oral sex; Blood transfusions; Being bitten; Contact between broken skin and HIV-infected body fluids; Deep, open-mouth kissing if both partners have sores or bleeding gums

HIV is not spread by:

·         Air or water

·         Insect bites

·         Saliva, tears, or sweat

·         Shaking hands, hugging, sharing toilets, sharing dishes/drinking glasses, or closed-mouth kissing with someone who is HIV-positive

·         Drinking fountains

·         Other sexual activities that don’t involve the exchange of body fluids, such as touching 

Stages of HIV:

Stage 1: Acute HIV infection

·         Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection, people may experience a flu-like illness: fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers

·         During this stage, there is a large amount of virus in their blood, and they are very contagious

·         People are often unaware that they’re infected because they may not feel sick right away or at all

Stage 2: Clinical latency (HIV is inactive or dormant)

·         HIV is still active but reproduces at very low levels. People are still able to transmit HIV to others

·         This period can last 10 years or longer, but some may progress through this phase faster

·         At the end of this stage, there is an increase in virus production (viral load) while the CD4 cell count decreases

·         HIV-positive people who are taking medication to treat their infection may be in this stage for several decades, and are much less likely to transmit HIV 

Stage 3: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

·         The most severe phase of HIV infection

·         Because people with AIDS have badly damaged immune systems (HIV has damaged the CD4 cells which fight infection), they are prone to getting opportunistic illnesses: infections or illnesses that occur more often or are more severe in people with weakened immune systems than in people with healthy immune systems

·         Without treatment, people typically survive about 3 years

·         Symptoms: chills, fever, sweats, swollen lymph glands, weakness, and weight loss

·         Diagnosis of AIDS is made when their CD4 cell count drops below 200 cells/mm or if they develop certain opportunistic illnesses

·         People with AIDS can have a high viral load and be very infectious

Testing: HIV tests are very accurate, but no test can detect the virus immediately after infection. If the initial test result is positive, additional testing will be done for confirmation.

Resources for confidential HIV testing:

·         Website: gettested.cdc.gov

·         Text your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948)

·         Call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)


·         No effective cure currently exists, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled

·         The medication used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART

·         If taken correctly, this medication can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of infecting others

HIV/AIDS Prevention:

·         Abstinence (not having sex)

·         Limiting your number of sexual partners

·         Never sharing needles

·         Using condoms every time you have sex

·         Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP): daily medication to prevent HIV infection

·         Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): medication taken after possible exposure to HIV

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