Do You Know?

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

The letters HIV stand for Human Immunodefiency Virus. This virus infects cells of the human immune system and destroys them or stops them from working. Someone whose immune system has been damaged by HIV is much more vulnerable to infections and cancers.

AIDS is short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Someone with HIV does not have AIDS unless their immune system has been severely weakened. By this point, the person will have developed one of a number of particularly severe illnesses, or will have lost most of their immune system cells. 

What are the symptoms of HIV and AIDS?

It is not possible to reliably diagnose HIV infection or AIDS based on symptoms alone.

People living with HIV may feel and look completely well but their immune systems may nevertheless be damaged. It is important to remember that once someone is infected they can pass on HIV right away, even if they feel healthy.

As time passes without effective treatment, HIV weakens an infected person's immune system, making them much more vulnerable toopportunistic infections. These infections are caused by germs that are around us all the time but which can normally be fought off by a healthy immune system. Once HIV has broken down the body's defences, such infections can take hold and produce any of a wide range of symptoms - some of them very severe. Certain cancers also become more common when the immune system is weakened.

Such symptoms are, however, not caused directly by HIV, and they can't by themselves be interpreted as definite signs of HIV infection or AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS requires signs of severe immune deficiency, which cannot be explained by any factor except HIV. This generally requires an HIV test.

The only way to know for sure whether a person is infected with HIV is for them to have an HIV test.

So does HIV by itself have any symptoms?

Some people who become infected with HIV do not notice any immediate change in their health. However, some suffer from a brief flu-like illness within a few weeks of becoming infected, or develop a rash or swollen glands. These symptoms do not indicate the development of AIDS, and they usually disappear within a few days or weeks.

"I have flu-like symptoms/swollen glands - could it be HIV?"

Many illnesses have flu-like symptoms or cause swollen glands. You cannot have HIV unless you have been directly exposed to the virus. HIV can be transmitted during sexual intercourse with an infected person, through contact with infected blood or breastmilk, or during unsafe injections or medical procedures. The only way you can find out whether or not you have been infected is to have an HIV test.

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