Healthy Living

What Is the Difference Between AIDS and HIV?

What Is the Difference Between AIDS and HIV?

Key Takeaways

  • The main difference between AIDS and HIV is that HIV is a virus, whereas AIDS is a condition that is caused by HIV. 
  • HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that destroys the immune system.
  • A person has AIDS when their CD4 count drops below 200 cells per milliliter of blood.

The main difference between AIDS and HIV is that HIV is a virus whereas AIDS is a condition that is caused by HIV. 

People often confuse HIV and AIDS. Different diagnoses are used to identify both HIV and AIDS. However, they are said to go hand-in-hand and are very often used interchangeably to describe the particular disease.

To make it more simple, HIV is a virus that can lead to a condition called AIDS. There was a time back in history that anyone diagnosed with HIV or AIDS would be considered taboo. However, with lot of advanced research and development available, people today with either HIV or AIDS are living a much better and productive life.

What is HIV?

First and foremost, one should understand that HIV is a virus that can lead to an infection. A virus is an infective and harmful agent that multiplies within living cells. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that destroys the immune system. HIV is known to infect humans only and attacks the immune system.

It infects the immune system and compromises its functions. Some people may or may not show symptoms at all. There is no way to eliminate HIV entirely from the body, but medications can control the virus. The cure for HIV remains undiscovered. However, advancements in medicine can make people with HIV live longer and healthier lives. It is possible for people to go unaware that they have HIV.

What is AIDS?

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is caused by HIV. It is considered to be the last stage of HIV. Many people don't know that AIDS is a condition and not the virus itself. People can only get AIDS if they HIV. AIDS is also referred to as a syndrome.

It is very complex, and different people will have different symptoms. It is possible to have HIV without getting AIDS. Some people can live for decades without developing AIDS. Also, there are a lot of risks when a person has AIDS. A person can possibly develop life-limiting conditions, like cancer and brain illnesses. AIDS is known to cause severe damage to the immune system.

Origination of HIV

Scientists had identified various types of chimpanzees in central Africa as the main source of HIV infections that had affected the humans. It is believed that the chimpanzee version of this virus was most likely transmitting to humans, and then it mutated into HIV when the humans hunted these chimpanzees for their meat and thus came in contact with their blood.

However, if some studies are to be believed, apes have passed on this deadly disease to humans. This dated back to 1800s. Gradually, over decades, this virus slowly started spreading across Africa and then to the other parts of the world. In the United States, this virus is known to exist since at least the mid to late 1970s.

How is the virus transmitted?

There are two possible ways that people can contract HIV. The most common way is through sexual contact with an infected person. The majority of people contract HIV through heterosexual relationships. In the United States, most cases of HIV are through homosexual relationships, specifically between two men. HIV is more common in heterosexual relationships in low-income countries than in high-income countries. Vaginal or anal sex are common ways of transmitting this disease. There are condoms available in the market that would help to reduce the risk of getting infected with the HIV virus during intercourse.

The second most common way to contract HIV is through the exchange of body fluids. This is most common with needle-sharing during drug use. There is also transfusion of contaminated blood or blood product that causes the HIV to spread. Another way is through pregnancy. When a mother is pregnant with a child, it is possible for the baby to receive HIV through breast milk. This is not as common, though, because proper treatment can be administered to significantly reduce the child's risk of contracting HIV.

Breastfeeding is also known to be a way of transmitting HIV. However, if the mother is treated with antiretroviral therapy during the stage of pregnancy and HIV medications are given to the newborn, then it would reduce the risk of transmission significantly.

There are lot of misunderstandings in people when it comes to HIV/AIDS. People feel that this deadly disease can spread by a simple touch. However, this is not the case. One cannot get infected with HIV through skin to skin contact or touching, shaking hands, or hugging. Also, it wouldn’t spread by sharing or touching items that belong to the HIV infected person, such as door handles, toilets, cups, phone, utensils, etc.

The HIV virus cannot survive for too long outside of the human body, and it also cannot produce outside a human host, thus it is not spread by:

  • Saliva, tears, or sweat that is not mixed with blood of the HIV positive person.
  • Mosquitoes, ticks, or any other insects.
  • Air or water.
  • Skin-to-skin touch.
  • Any sexual activities that would not involve the transmission of body fluids.

How do I know if I have AIDS or HIV?

HIV and AIDS are diagnosed with lab testing and certain symptoms or signs. People with HIV develop certain antibodies within 3 to 12 weeks of infection. When a person tests positive, it is confirmed by an antibody or by PCR. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is used to generate copies of a particular DNA sequence. This is used to look at a DNA sequence and determine if there is an individual antibody that is only developed when a person is infected with HIV. There is now a new rapid HIV test that is very accurate. A person has AIDS when their CD4 count drops below 200 cells per milliliter of blood.

The fine line between HIV and AIDS

There is a very fine line between HIV and AIDS. While one is a virus, the other is a condition. Both indicated that the immune system had been adversely affected. Although HIV could culminate to AIDS, having HIV does not mean that you have AIDS.

As per its definition, HIV is a virus that attacks a person’s immune system. Early diagnosis and proper treatment can help control the infection. However, over a period, when HIV damages the immune system to a large extent, it leads to AIDS. The majority of the problem lies in the fact that HIV can remain undiagnosed by ignoring its symptoms. It's not very easy to catch, because its symptoms are similar to that of a common flu. People tend to ignore the flu and self-medicate themselves. This is not the solution. If this infection is caught at the right time, the spread of HIV can be prevented, depending on the current condition of the patient. If ignored, the same virus tends to affect the immune system in the worst possible ways. Eventually, it spirals into the entire system, organs, skin, and joints, causing cancer, visual and hearing issues, headaches, difficulty in breathing, and so much more.

How the infection spreads

Finding out if a person has AIDS is possible with proper diagnosis. Since AIDS is the result of severe HIV infection, it usually indicates the later stage of the illness. The infected patient falls prey to some ailments that occur due to a compromised immune system. A decline in the capacity of fighting against infections and pathogens in the body leads to higher chances of secondary and tertiary infections, as well. Because of this, the life expectancy of the patient drops exponentially.

Although it is said that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing, please bear in mind that they are both infectious. Both diseases are contagious and can be transferred to a partner during sexual intercourse, or by sharing syringes, or, in some cases, via blood transfusion, as well. Since body fluids are carriers of infection, precaution must be practiced.

HIV can be equally dangerous. Thus, the symptoms and course of treatment cannot be ignored. With advances in medicine, the HIV infection can be suppressed or subdued for as long as a decade until the condition worsens and manifests itself as AIDS. Predisposition to such infections must be avoided. Regular health check-ups are a must, especially if you have visible symptoms or multiple sex partners.

AIDS and HIV are thought to be the same disease. However, if you feel like you might be infected with the virus, medical treatment is necessary. With proper communication and diagnosis, a life can be saved.

Diagnosing AIDS is more complicated. It is said that AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. There are certain factors that indicate when a person has crossed the fine line from HIV to AIDS. HIV destroys the immune cells, which are called CD4 cells.

In AIDS, a part of the diagnosis means to count those cells. A person who does not have HIV can have around 500 to 1200 CD4 cells; however, the cells drop to 200 when the HIV person is considered to have AIDS.

Also, there are other factors that signal the presence of AIDS, and it is known as the opportunistic infections. Any disease that is caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses are known as opportunistic infections.

Life expectancy and treatment 

Once the HIV virus is developed into AIDS, the life expectancy of the person drops drastically. This damage is difficult to repair, since the immune system is damaged. In such a state, various infections that are due to an impaired immune system, such as cancer, can occur at any point.

Such infections then turn out to be more fatal and create complications for the person. With the various technologies available, a person having HIV can live with the virus for years and probably decades before AIDS develops. While undergoing the HIV treatment, the person can lead a normal healthy life; however, the patient should understand that the virus can still spread to someone else, and hence should be careful at all times.

If HIV is left untreated, then there are chances that it would advance to AIDS, since by that time the virus would have wiped out most of the CD4 cells. Hence, starting of the treatment becomes more vital for survival. To avoid HIV from replicating, there are antiretroviral therapies available, which are a combination of medications.

This therapy would reduce the amount of virus available in the body, which in turn would mean that the less amount of virus in the body would result in better chances of maintaining the immune system’s health. One should note that antiretroviral therapy is not a cure for HIV; this therapy would only help the person to lead a normal healthy and longer life. Also, it would help to lower the chances of transmitting this disease to someone else.

Also, those people who are partners of the infected person should start preventive medication, which his known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). By consistently consuming this pill under the doctor’s guidance, it would help to lower the risk of getting infected.

Symptoms of HIV

One cannot rely on symptoms alone to identify the disease. The best way for diagnosis is to get a blood test. Depending om various body types, the symptoms would also vary. Below are few symptoms a person would come across in any of the three stages.

There are three stages in HIV, first being the early stage, second is known as the clinical latency test, and the last, which is also deadly, is known as the AIDS stage. During the early stage, the person would experience chill, fatigue, rash, ulcers in the mouth, aches in the muscles, sores, or lymph node swelling.

In the second stage, the person may or may not experience any symptoms; however, when the virus progresses to AIDS, then the symptoms would be pneumonia, sudden loss of weight, diarrhea which lasts for more than two years, hot flashes, loss of memory, depression, sores in the mouth, profusely sweating, etc.

The bottom line

While the cure for HIV is still unknown, proper treatment and medicine are already available to control the virus. The main thing to remember is that AIDS is not a virus; it is a condition that is caused by HIV. If you think you're susceptible to contracting the virus, contact your health clinic to get tested immediately.