HIV and AIDS have both received a great deal of attention over the last three decades, but many people misunderstand the virus, its causes, and its symptoms. It is one of the most frightening health issues in existence, but for many infected, it is extremely treatable and controllable. One of the biggest misconceptions is that HIV and AIDS are the same thing. They are closely related and one develops into the other, but the terms should not be used interchangeably.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. As the title implies, it only infects humans, it weakens the immune system, and it is a virus, which means it reproduces itself. It does this by taking over the cells in the human body.
An HIV infection can be dormant in a person for a long time, but when it begins to attack, it leads to AIDS.
What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a contracted health condition, it affects the immune system, and it includes several symptoms. It is not a single disease, but a complex syndrome that is considered the final stage of an HIV infection.
What is the Cause of HIV and AIDS?
Researchers believe HIV was passed from chimpanzees to humans several decades ago when the animals were eaten by man. HIV is passed between humans through certain bodily fluids. If an infected person’s bodily fluids enter another person’s body, it is possible for the non-infected person to become infected. HIV is passed through several, but not all, bodily fluids. These include:
Pre-seminal fluid and semen
Coming into contact with sweat, tears, feces, nasal discharge, saliva, and vomit, unless it contains blood or any of the other fluids listed above, cannot infect you. This means HIV cannot be passed through kissing, sneezing, coughing, or casual contact.
A person can become infected through sexual contact, sharing drug needles, during childbirth or breastfeeding, during a blood transfusion, or through occupational exposure. People working in fields that expose them to bodily fluids are encouraged (and sometimes required) to undergo special safety training teaching them proper protocol for protecting their health.
Signs and Symptoms of HIV and AIDS
It is possible to be HIV positive and not have any symptoms. There can also be flare-ups of symptoms. A person might experience several recurring periods of flu-like illness without HIV progressing to full-blown AIDS. Most early infections trigger a flu-like bout of illness within the first month following infection. This is known as Acute Retroviral Syndrome (ARS) or primary HIV infection. Symptoms during this early event include:
Sore throat and swollen lymph nodes
Ulcers in the mouth
Following this initial phase, the infected person usually experiences a latency period which can last a decade or more. In most cases, following this latency period, HIV progresses to AIDS. Symptoms of AIDS include:
For many, extreme illness and death are not caused by HIV or AIDS, but by infections of opportunity. HIV and AIDS weaken the immune system, so germs and diseases take advantage and attack.