What Is the Difference Between HIV and AIDS?

Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2022

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV is a virus that causes immunosuppression. The difference between HIV and AIDS is that HIV is the first stage of the viral illness while AIDS represents the progression of the illness.
HIV is a virus that causes immunosuppression. The difference between HIV and AIDS is that HIV is the first stage of the viral illness while AIDS represents the progression of the illness.

People often confuse HIV and AIDS. Although both weaken the immune system, they aren’t the same. They have different symptoms and diagnoses. To understand the AIDS HIV difference, you’ll need to know what they are and how they can affect you.

HIV is a virus that infects only humans. If you contract HIV, the infection can progress into a condition called AIDS. This distinction between the virus and the condition that might or might not develop is the main difference between HIV and AIDS.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This virus infects the human body and weakens the immune system. Typically, your immune system can fight many different viruses. But HIV attacks your immune cells and prevents them from fighting the infection. 

HIV cannot be completely cured. Once you get HIV, it remains for life. However, medications can help control the growth of the virus and help you live a long, healthy life.

What is AIDS?

If the HIV infection is left untreated, it can lead to AIDS. AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is also known as stage 3 HIV. It develops when HIV seriously damages the immune system. Its symptoms vary from person to person.

The condition can lead to other opportunistic infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis. These occur when the immune system gets too weak to fight invading germs. 

AIDS can be prevented by taking HIV treatment called antiretroviral therapy.

How is HIV transmitted?

Like other viruses, HIV can be transmitted between people. It can spread if you come in contact with the body fluids of a person with HIV, including:

  • Blood
  • Semen and seminal fluid
  • Rectal fluids
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

Most commonly, it can spread during unprotected sex without condoms with a person who has HIV. It can also spread through shared needles. Less often, it can be transmitted from an HIV-positive mother to their baby during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of AIDS-HIV?

HIV causes different symptoms at different stages of infection.

Stage 1

This early stage is known as acute HIV infection. Within 2 to 4 weeks of HIV infection, most people show flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, rash, tiredness, body ache, sore throat, and mouth ulcers. These symptoms may last from a couple of days to many weeks. Some people don’t show any symptoms in this stage.

These symptoms are similar to those of other viral infections. If you have these symptoms, you may not necessarily have an HIV infection. If you are concerned that you may have HIV, it is best to get an HIV test.

Stage 2

This stage is called the latency period, or chronic HIV infection. In this stage, you still may not have any symptoms. The virus continues to multiply slowly in your body. Stage 2 can last for 10 to 15 years. 

Stage 3

If you have HIV and aren’t taking HIV treatment, the virus will damage your immune system over time. This ongoing damage leads to AIDS — the final stage of HIV infection. Its symptoms include:

Again, these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. If you are HIV-positive and have these symptoms, visit your doctor to check if the HIV infection progressed to stage 3 or AIDS.

How to diagnose AIDS-HIV?

HIV and AIDS are diagnosed differently.

HIV diagnosis

If you suspect exposure to HIV, visit your doctor for early diagnosis and treatment. When HIV infects your body, the immune system creates antibodies to fight the virus. These antibodies can help detect HIV infection through a blood or saliva test. However, antibodies may not appear in your body until after several weeks of infection.

Doctors may also use an antigen test to check for antigens or proteins produced by the virus. Antigen tests can detect HIV immediately after infection. Your medical care providers may also use a viral load test to check how much virus is present in the blood. 

These tests are all easy to perform and are accurate. If you’re HIV-positive, your doctor will start your HIV treatment with antiretroviral medications.

AIDS diagnosis 

AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection. It is diagnosed using a different method.

HIV damages immune cells known as CD4 cells. Doctors diagnose AIDS by estimating the number of CD4 cells in your body using fluid samples. Without HIV, you have 500 to 1,200 CD4 cells per cubic millimeter (mm3) of human blood. But, if you’re HIV-positive and your CD4 cell count drops to 200 pc, you’ll be diagnosed with AIDS.

Your doctor will also check for the presence of opportunistic infections. These infections typically affect people with a weakened immune system. 

AIDS-HIV treatment

If you have HIV and the viral load is detectable, you can easily transmit HIV to others. Taking HIV treatment can help you live a long, healthy life and keep the virus under control. This way the viral load will remain undetectable, effectively reducing the risk of transmitting HIV to any sexual partner.

If you’re HIV negative, your doctor may recommend using emergency medication like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV.

If you don’t get treatment, your infection will develop into AIDS. With AIDS, you are more prone to having other life-threatening conditions. Your damaged immune system may not be able to defend your body against infections and certain cancers

AIDS is treated using antiretroviral therapy and immunity boosters. This helps many people with AIDS live long, healthy lives. With the current treatments available, people can live with HIV and prevent the development of AIDS. However, early diagnosis and treatment are important to maintain your health. 


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Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2022

CDC: "About HIV," "Types of HIV Tests," "Ways HIV Can Be Transmitted," "What is AIDS?"

HIV.gov: "How Is HIV Transmitted," "Symptoms of HIV," "What Are HIV and AIDS?"