Womens Health

The HIV-AIDS Differentiation

While the terms HIV and AIDS are often used interchangeably, and while popular myth claims that they are the same thing, HIV and AIDS are in fact quite distinct. They are, however, closely related. This article will examine the HIV- AIDS differentiation.

The shortest, succinct distinction is that one can be HIV-positive and not have AIDS.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for "human immunodeficiency virus." This is a virus that weakens and damages the body's immune system - that is, your body's system for fighting off infection and disease. If someone is HIV-positive, it simply means that they are infected with this virus.

The HIV virus progresses as follows: First the virus attacks special immune-system cells called CD4 cells. It then attaches to and infects these cells by injecting them with HIV proteins (DNA and RNA). Finally, the new HIV virus infects other CD4 cells, and so the cycle continues.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome." AIDS is a term that encompasses a whole host of symptoms and diseases that are related to the damage caused by HIV. As the HIV infection progresses, it wreaks damage on the body's immune system. As a result, the afflicted individual is even more prone to infection and disease. A person is said to have AIDS when they not only HIV-positive, but when either the numbers of certain types of immune-system cells drops below a critical level, or when they develop certain infections (known as "opportunistic" or "AIDS-defining" infections).

SUMMARY: In a nutshell, then, HIV is a virus that damages the body's immune system. In turn, if the virus progresses unchecked, it renders the body at greater risk for illnesses and infections said to be "AIDS-defining." One who acquires one of these infections is diagnosed with AIDS.

How is HIV Transmitted?

Contrary to popular belief HIV cannot be spread through casual contact. This includes: shaking hands; hugging and kissing; drinking from the same glass; exposure to an infected person's coughing or sneezing; using the same toilet. Rather, HIV is transmitted from person to person via the exchange of body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. While most commonly transmitted through sexual contact, the virus can also be transmitted by means of transfusions, shared needles to inject drugs, or other types of contact with bodily fluids - such as breastfeeding.

Can HIV be Stopped or Cured?

While there is no known cure for HIV, many medical advances have been made in terms of drugs that can diminish the virus's ability to reproduce. However, keep in mind that people taking HIV medications can still infect others. Similarly, while one can live for many years with HIV without developing AIDS, it is essential that they be tested on a regular basis.

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