HIV, or to give it its full name Human Immunodeficiency Virus, has certain common regularities also found in other viruses, such as the common cold or the Flu. Albeit there is one main difference between this virus and others; over time your body can clear your body of the Flu and a cold as your immune system is able to fight off the virus. Yet this is not the case with HIV as the human immune system cannot combat this virus and clear it from your system.
HIV can lay practically dormant in the cells in your body for long periods of time and we know that it attacks two key parts of your bodies immune system, your CD4 cells and T-cells. These cells are key to your bodies immune system as it utilizes these to fight infections and diseases, but HIV invades these cells, uses them to replicate itself and then destroys the host cell.
Over time HIV can eliminate so many of these key immune cells that your body is simply unable to fight off infections and diseases. When this comes to pass the HIV infection can lead to AIDS.
What is AIDS
AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the last stage of the HIV infection. This stage is reached the bodies immune system is so badly damaged that you are at risk of Opportunistic Infections (OIs).
The onset of AIDS is diagnosed once you have one or more specific OIs, your CD4 count is very low or you develop certain cancers.
Once you are diagnosed with AIDS you require medical intervention and treatment to prevent mortality (death).
The Difference between HIV & AIDS
Contrary to some beliefs the two are not the same. You do not have AIDS if you are diagnosed with HIV.
You can be HIV+ for a long period of time with no signs of the disease or with only mild to moderate symptoms. However without treatment HIV will in due time wear down the immune system in most people to the point that they have very low numbers of CD4 cells and will develop OIs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies a person as having AIDS if they are HIV+ and has one or both of the following conditions: -
- At least one AIDS-defining opportunistic infection (your medical specialist can provide you with a current list of these should you require one)
- A CD4 count of 200 cells or less (normal CD4 counts are around 600 to 1500)
There is no defining list of symptoms for HIV. Some people may develop flu-like symptoms within a few weeks that can last for a week or more, yet others simply have no symptoms what so ever. Other symptoms may include a rash or swollen glands, headaches, sore throat, limb pains, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea and muscle aches. Now as you can see reading from the above list there is no definitive symptoms to look for so if you believe you may have been exposed to HIV you should get yourself tested.
As an important note to this, HIV can take up to three months for the accumulation of its antibodies to become sufficient in quantity for an accurate diagnosis. So whilst you should get tested immediately if you suspect you have been exposed to HIV you may not receive a true result and should repeat the test after the three month timescale.