HIV vs. AIDS FAQ
Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that can lead to AIDS if not treated. The immunodeficiency in HIV means this virus attacks the body’s immune system. A failed immune system can’t protect you adequately from infection.
HIV spreads through certain bodily fluids that attack the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells, often called T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy enough T cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. Unlike other viruses, our bodies can’t get rid of HIV completely—once you get HIV, you have it for life.
HIV & AIDS are the same virus, but at different stages. AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is the most severe phase of the HIV infection. People with AIDS get an increasing number of severe illnesses because of their compromised immune systems.
Without treatment, people with an AIDS diagnosis will have shorter life spans because of their susceptibility to infection. A person with an AIDS diagnosis is living with HIV, but with significantly less CD4 cells.
You cannot get HIV from a mosquitos or saliva—the virus can only be transmitted through an exchange of bodily fluids between a person who has HIV and a person who does not have HIV. Those bodily fluids include blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.
These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to occur. In fact, HIV can live in a used needle up to 42 days depending on temperature and other factors.
The only way to absolutely know if you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is important because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV.
Some people may experience a flu-like illness within 2 to 4 weeks after HIV infection with symptoms that include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers. If you have these symptoms, that doesn’t mean you have HIV. But if you have these symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, make an appointment to discuss your risk and get tested.
Those who don’t receive HIV treatment typically progress through three stages:
Stage 1: Acute HIV infection. Within 2 to 4 weeks after HIV infection, people may experience a flu-like illness that can last for a few weeks. If you think you have been exposed to HIV through sex or drug use and you have flu-like symptoms, seek medical care and ask for a test to diagnose acute infection.
Stage 2: Clinical latency (HIV inactivity or dormancy). This stage is called asymptomatic HIV infection or chronic HIV infection because HIV is still active but reproduces at very low levels. You may not have any symptoms or get sick during this time. For people who aren’t taking medicine to treat HIV, this period can last a decade or longer, but some may progress through this phase faster.
Stage 3: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the most severe phase of HIV infection. People with AIDS have severely damaged immune systems and they get an increasing number of severe illnesses, called opportunistic illnesses.
There are more tools than ever today to prevent HIV. You can prevent HIV through abstinence (not having sex), limiting your number of sexual partners, never sharing needles, using lube, and/or using condoms properly every time you have sex. You may also use HIV prevention regimens such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
There are many actions you can take to live healthy with HIV and prevent transmitting it to others. Most important is taking HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) as prescribed. This medicine helps you get and keep an undetectable viral load (or stay virally suppressed), so you can stay healthy and have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to others.
Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and seeing a provider like PHNTX regularly will also help keep you healthy. To begin a regimen of living healthy with HIV, contact your medical provider or call PHNTX at 214-521-5191 to become a patient.
Talk to your medical provider or PHNTX right away about medical care for you and your baby. If you were being treated for HIV before you were pregnant, your HIV treatment will likely not change very much.
If you take HIV medicine daily as prescribed throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and give HIV medicine to your baby for 4-6 weeks after delivery, your risk of transmitting HIV to your baby can be 1% or less. After delivery, you can prevent transmitting HIV to your baby by avoiding breastfeeding since breast milk contains HIV.
People who consistently take their HIV medicine, known as antiretroviral therapy or ART, can significantly reduce their viral load. Viral load is how much of a virus is present in a person’s bloodstream. Individuals living with HIV can become undetectable, meaning less than 50 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood (<50 copies/mL) is detected in their bloodstream. An undetectable viral load is also untransmittable, meaning that person cannot transmit HIV to someone else. Learn more about the global efforts to spread awareness and promote healthy HIV living through the #UequalsU Campaign.
There is no cure for HIV; but with proper medical care, HIV can be managed so you can live a long, healthy life and have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex. And the future of HIV treatment is looking brighter each day.
The case of the “Berlin patient” essentially “cured” from HIV ten years ago, was reinforced by the 2019 London patient report also confirming an HIV “cure.” Both patients were treated with stem cell transplants from donors who carried a rare genetic mutatio, known as CCR5-delta 32 that made them resistant to HIV. The London patient has been in remission for 18 months since he stopped taking antiretroviral (ART) drugs. Neither instance is a cure.
According to the National Institutes of Health, scientists are exploring a new array of drugs for HIV treatment that include longer-acting pills as well as alternative formulations such as injections, patches, and implants. They’re also testing multiple antibodies and considering other possibilities such as therapeutic HIV vaccines.
PHNTX is committed to staying abreast of the latest advancements in HIV/AIDS treatments by participating in several clinical trials.
If you have health insurance, your insurer is required to cover some HIV medicines. If don’t have health insurance or can’t afford your co-pay or co-insurance amount, PHNTX has the resources to help you get the financial support you need. Make an appointment to learn more and get the care you deserve. PHNTX is covered by most major insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid.