Millions of people have died of AIDS since the disease was first isolated and named. Despite all the information that is available, there is still some confusion as to what the difference is between HIV and AIDS and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. This, in the more strict medical sense, is incorrect, and even in layman’s terms, its important for all of us to understand the difference so as to understand the disease and its management better.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It is the one that will be passed on to you in unprotected sexual intercourse, through dirty needles or getting a transfusion with blood that’s not been scanned. HIV belongs to a group of viruses called retroviruses, and they are slow working virus. A flu virus, for example, is different. It acts fast. Within hours of it entering your body, it will already give you symptoms. HIV is different, and has been known to lie dormant in some people for years before any symptoms are seen.
HIV enters the body through bodily fluids and travels through the mucous membranes. The viruses soon multiply and lodge into your own cells and start to slowly attack the immune system. They will kill of healthy cells and weaken your immune system, causing compromised immunity. This deterioration, at its peak, is what is known as AIDS. It is the final stage of HIV infection, when the C4 count, the blood count that tells of the level of HIV infection in one’s blood, falls below 200. At this time, the infected person will have opportunistic infections that will not heal – the body is beyond the level where it can repair itself using the fighter white blood cells.
There are 4 stages of HIV infection, before one gets to AIDS:
- Right after infection, there is a period called a window. It’s so called because it’s the time between which the viruses enter the bloodstream and when they start to destroy the immunity in the body.
- After that comes seroconversion, when the body begins to develop antibodies to fight off the virus. This may manifest mostly as flu and feelings of general malaise. At this point, an infected person is highly infectious. Unprotected sexual contact with them would most likely end up in passing of the infection. The antibodies are fighting for you, but it’s a losing fight unless you are already diagnosed and under treatment.
- The third stage is called symptom free. There are usually no symptoms, unless the infected person already had other health complications before they contracted HIV. An otherwise healthy person will otherwise show no symptoms. It’s a stage that can last from 6 months to 10 years, and it’s never really been established why this happens.
- After this comes the final stage, AIDS. Suddenly, the person is continuously sick and displays all the classic symptoms of AIDS.
Now you understand the difference between HIV and AIDS. AIDS is a disease that is usually associated with our own personal responsibility towards ourselves. It’s rare that one will contract it through a blood transfusion. Unprotected sex and sharing of needles are the main culprits. It’s up to you to take care of yourself, and knowing the difference between HIV and AIDS will help you to do it better.