Have you ever been confused by the difference between HIV and AIDS? The two terms seem to be used interchangeably by the public, the media, even the organizations who are serving HIV positive people. Why is it called UNAIDS rather than UNHIV anyways? AIDS Calgary rather than HIV Calgary?
Let’s start this discussion with some clinical definitions of the two terms.
HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
AIDS – Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
Now it’s totally clear, right? Alright, you probably knew those definitions already so let’s come at this from a different angle.
HIV: Want to know if you’re HIV positive? There’s a test for that. If you are HIV positive, a blood test can further tell you what your HIV viral load is. HIV is a virus that has an impact on the human body. HIV destroys or impairs CD4 cells (immune system cells). HIV is transmitted through five bodily fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk, and anal secretions).
To put it simply, HIV is something that can be measured.
So what is AIDS?
AIDS is simply a definition. It might mean that your CD4 cell count has dropped to a certain level. It could also mean that you have one, or more, opportunistic infections. Whether or not you ‘have AIDS’ actually depends on where you live. Different countries have different definitions for when an HIV positive person is given an AIDS diagnosis.
An AIDS diagnosis is tricky. You may be ‘diagnosed’ with AIDS because your CD4 cell count has dropped to 150. But what happens two weeks later when your CD4 cell count shoots back up to 500? Well you still have an AIDS diagnosis. Once that diagnosis gets stamped into your file it is irreversible.
To put it simply, AIDS is a political definition.
So why are we still talking about AIDS? Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer to this question.
The term AIDS was actually defined a couple of years prior to science showing us that HIV was the cause of AIDS. It could simply be a case where the term AIDS gelled into the public consciousness first.
Whatever the reason, nowadays, talking about HIV will almost always be more accurate than talking about AIDS. But, hey, as long as we’re talking about it we’re heading in the right direction.
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