AIDS & HIV: Do You Know The Difference?

One of the scariest things on earth is not some horror flick, but getting AIDS. Much of the fear comes from ignorance. Most people think AIDS and HIV are same. They are not. They are related though.

To put the difference in simplest terms:

  • HIV is a virus. Its full form is Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It destroys body’s immune system.
  • AIDS is a medical condition, which is caused by the virus HIV. Its full form is Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome. This is the final stage of HIV infection.

Please do not confuse between the virus and the condition that comes later. Both are separate diagnosis. Symptoms of both are different and vary from person to person.

There was a time when diagnosis of HIV or AIDS was regarded as death sentence for a patient. Thanks to progressive medical science, people with this disease are able to live healthier and productive lives.

HIV attacks body’s immunity mercilessly

When the immune system of the body is attacked by this virus it is rendered weak. For some reason not yet known by medical science, our immune system is unable to fight this virus. However, scientists have been able to develop medications to control this virus.

AIDS happens in the last stage. It implies a damaged immune system. Your body loses the ability to fight other infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and certain types of cancers. 

How the infection progresses

Once the virus enters a body, the individual begins to get flu-like symptoms within a few months or even weeks. This depends on how strong the immunity is. Initial symptoms usually seen are fever, headaches, rashes, and others. If the symptoms are not treated at the initial stage, the person tends to develop serious symptoms like chronic diarrhea, abrupt weight loss, infections or disorders that would usually not occur in an otherwise healthy person.

Remember that serious symptoms occur much later after the attack of HIV. It may take years to develop them. That’s the reason why most HIV cases go untreated until they enter the last stage, which is AIDS. 

Death due to AIDS

When somebody dies of AIDS the real cause is that the person caught other serious infections and their bodies were unable to fight them. HIV suppresses the immune system. 

Diagnosis of AIDS

Doctors diagnose AIDS by testing the patient’s CD4 cell count. Also called T-helper cells or T-cells, CD4 cells are a kind of white blood corpuscles that help to protect the body from infections. They transport signals to activate an immune response against an “invader” like bacterium or virus.

A healthy person has 500-1600 cells/mm3 in his or her blood. If the count is less than 200 cells/mm3, it indicates AIDS. Doctors also diagnose this disease when somebody has multiple chronic opportunistic infections.

AIDS is the final stage when HIV has destroyed most of the CD4 cells. This could be a hopeless situation, unless, of course, the medical world has devised a treatment for it. However, timely treatment, to be precise, in the earlier stages, can help thwart HIV infection to progress to AIDS. 

Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART)

Anti Retroviral Therapy is a combo of medications that doctors use to block HIV from replication. This decreases number of virus in the patient’s body. According to medical studies, the fewer HIV in the body, the more chance for the immune system to fight against HIV.

ART is a kind of disease management, not a cure.

The therapy can help patients live longer and healthier. It reduces risk of a patient transmitting HIV to others.

According to doctors, the partner of an HIV-infected person must begin a preventative measure. It is a medication known as PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. When a person takes this medication regularly, it reduces risk of developing a permanent HIV infection. 

Misconceptions trigger fear

A lot of misconceptions surround this disease. AIDS does not spread by shaking hands, sitting near the patient, touching them, eating meals with them, or touching their belongings.

AIDS spreads through the following ways:

  • Unprotected sex with an HIV-infected person
  • Infected mother breastfeeding her child
  • Blood transfusion
  • Re-use of syringes

In case you doubt being infected by HIV, rush to get yourselves tested on time to prevent the infection turning into full-fledged AIDS.

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