HIV/AIDS

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What is AIDS?

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome:

A - Acquired. This condition is acquired, meaning that a person becomes infected with it.

I - Immuno. This condition affects a person's immune system, the part of the body that fights off germs such as bacteria or viruses.

D - Deficiency. The immune system becomes deficient and does not work properly.

S - Syndrome. A person with AIDS may experience other diseases and infections because of a weakened immune system.

AIDS was first reported in the United States in 1981 and has since become a major worldwide epidemic. AIDS is the most advanced stage of infection caused by HIV. The names HIV and AIDS can be confusing because both terms describe the same disease. Most people who are HIV positive do not have AIDS. An HIV-positive person is said to have AIDS when his or her immune system becomes so weak it can't fight off certain kinds of infections and cancers, such as PCP (a type of pneumonia) or KS (Kaposi sarcoma, a type of cancer that affects the skin and internal organs in HIV), wasting syndrome (involuntary weight loss), memory impairment, or tuberculosis.

Even without one of these infections, an HIV-positive person is diagnosed with AIDS if his or her immune system becomes severely weakened. This is measured by a lab test that determines the number of CD4 cells a person has. A CD4 cell count less than 200 in an HIV-infected person counts as a diagnosis of AIDS. It can take between 2 to 10 years, or longer, for an HIV-positive person to develop AIDS, even without treatment.

Once a person has been diagnosed with AIDS, she or he is always considered to have AIDS, even if that person's CD4 count goes up again and/or they recover from the disease that defined their AIDS diagnosis.

Pop question: True or false. Being HIV positive means you have AIDS.

Answer: FALSE. HIV means you have the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. AIDS means your immune system is so weak it cannot fight certain infections or cancers because you have HIV.