Although most people have heard of HIV and AIDS, some people are confused about the difference between the two. AIDS is essentially the advanced stage of HIV. However, modern treatment can prevent people living with HIV from ever developing AIDS. If you have been at risk from HIV, get tested as soon as possible.
The Difference Between HIV and AIDS
What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus is spread through unprotected sex and sharing needles. HIV attacks the immune system, often over a long period of time, and gradually erodes the body’s ability to fight off infections and diseases. Eventually, the weakened immune system cannot fight off opportunistic infections and other conditions, and the body will develop AIDS.
What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is not a single illness but the name for the diseases and infections that overpower the weakened immune system. Conditions that the body could easily fight off now become fatal. Essentially, AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV: the symptomatic stage. Most people living with HIV don’t develop AIDS.
Does HIV always develop into AIDS?
Not at all. HIV cannot be cured but modern medicine can manage and contain the virus. Although people living with HIV need to take a lifelong course of retroviral medicines, they can enjoy a normal and happy life. Successful treatment allows those living with HIV to enjoy a healthy sex life, an unaffected life expectancy, and minimal doctor visits (one or two a year). Getting HIV diagnosed and treated as early as possible is vital for ensuring the best possible results.
People recently infected with HIV often experience a flu-like illness known as the seroconversion illness. This illness almost always occurs within six weeks of exposure, normally between one and three weeks. Estimates suggest at least 80% of newly HIV-positive men experience symptomatic seroconversion illness. Symptoms include:
- Fever and high temperature
- Severe headaches
- Sore throat
- Muscle ache
- Joint pain
- Body rash
- Swollen glands (most commonly neck)
- Skin lesions
Experiencing these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have HIV. A number of common conditions can cause them, including flu. Have you recently had unprotected sex with a new partner or shared a needle with somebody? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you should certainly get tested for HIV - regardless of whether you have experienced seroconversion symptoms or not.
Asymptomatic stage of HIV
The asymptomatic stage of HIV occurs after the seroconversion illness, before the HIV has developed into AIDS. The person with HIV experiences no HIV symptoms and often feels perfectly healthy. The asymptomatic stage can last for 10 years and sometimes longer. During this time the HIV gradually weakens the immune system. People with HIV can still pass the virus onto others through unprotected sex and / or shared needles, regardless of whether any symptoms are displayed. Without treatment, asymptomatic HIV will eventually develop into symptomatic HIV - in other words, AIDS.
Everybody should get tested for HIV once a year, if only as a precautionary measure. People who belong to high risk groups - men who have sex with men, people from HIV endemic areas (e.g. at risk Sub-Saharan Africa) - should get tested on an even more regular basis, especially if they are sexually active with multiple partners. Our HIV Blood Test is accurate and confidential, without the requirement to see a doctor in-person. Alternatively many GP and GUM clinics provide HIV tests.