What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV-infected T cell Image by NIAID/CC
BY HIV-infected T cell

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). AIDS is the final stage of an HIV infection when the body can no longer fight off diseases. Most people say “HIV/AIDS” when talking about either the virus (HIV) or the disease it causes (AIDS).

HIV destroys certain cells in the immune system—called CD4+ cells. The immune system helps the body fight diseases, but HIV weakens the body’s ability to heal itself. AIDS is diagnosed when people have one or more of these infections and a low number of CD4+ cells in their body.

HIV/AIDS has been a global epidemic for more than 30 years. People born after 1980 have never known a world without it. More than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV.1 It is thought that 1 in 7 people are unaware they have the condition. 

A person can have HIV for many years, and the virus may or may not progress to the disease of AIDS. This is why a person may appear healthy when, in fact, they carry the HIV virus and can pass it on to others through sexual activity or needle sharing. A medical test is the only way to know if a person has HIV. 

Treatment

There is no cure for HIV. But, with proper care, HIV can be managed. Learn the link

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV in the United States and Dependent Areas. Atlanta, GA,  January 2019. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/basics/ataglance.html.