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Glossary of HIV/AIDS Terms

for Health Care Providers

Glossary of HIV/AIDS Terms


Abacavir; also Abstinence, Be Faithful, Use Condoms (a popular HIV/AIDS prevention message).

Abruptio Placentae

Premature separation of the placenta from the site of implantation on the uterus before delivery of the fetus.

Accidental Inoculation

An occupational exposure to HIV that occurs during the performance of job duties (by a nurse or doctor, for example). Includes a needlestick or cut with a sharp object, contact of mucous membranes (mouth, eyes), or contact of skin (especially when the exposed skin is chapped, abraded, or afflicted with dermatitis--skin rash or sores--or the contact is prolonged or involving an extensive area) with blood, tissues, or other body fluids (stool, urine, vaginal secretions, saliva, mucous) to which universal precautions apply.


AIDS Control Program

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

The most severe manifestation of infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, and many national governments list numerous opportunistic infections and cancers that, in the presence of HIV infection, result in an AIDS diagnosis. AIDS is also defined on the basis of the degree of immunodeficiency in an HIV-infected individual. AIDS can also affect the central nervous system and can result in neurological problems, infections, or cancers.

Active Immunity

Protection from a disease as a result of previous exposure to the disease-causing infectious agent or part of the infectious agent (antigen). The protection can be a result of having had the disease or having received a vaccine to prevent getting the disease.

Active Tuberculosis

Active disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, as evidenced by a confirmatory culture, or, in the absence of culture, suggestive clinical symptoms, including productive cough lasting >3 weeks, chest pain, hemoptysis, fever, night sweats, weight loss, and easy fatigability. Active TB is a communicable disease that is treatable, curable, and preventable. Persons with active TB disease should be under the care of a health care provider. Active TB disease may indicate immune deficiency. For HIV-infected persons, active TB disease is considered an opportunistic infection and a qualifying condition for AIDS.

Acute HIV Infection

The period following infection when there is rapid production of virus. An estimated 80 to 90% of individuals with primary HIV infection develop an acute syndrome (disorder) characterized by flulike symptoms of fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, headache, aching muscles, and sometimes skin rash. Following infection, the immune system produces antibody and a cellular response to the virus (seroconversion) and a broad HIV-1 specific immune response occurs, usually within an average of 3 weeks after HIV infection. High levels of virus (HIV RNA) can be found in the blood at this time.


Any disease involving or causing enlargement of lymph nodes.


The extent to which a patient continues the agreed-upon treatment as prescribed.


An ingredient added to a prescription or solution that increases or modifies the action of the principal ingredient. May be used in treatment of HIV or for HIV vaccines.

Adverse Reaction

(Adverse event) An unwanted effect caused by the administration of drugs or vaccines. Onset may be sudden or develop over time.

See Side Effects.


A form of giving a drug in which a drug, such as pentamidine, is turned into a fine spray or mist by a nebulizer and inhaled.


A nearly total absence of antibodies (immunoglobulins) resulting in the loss of ability to produce immune antibodies.

See Antibody.

AIDS Dementia Complex (ADC)

(HIV-associated dementia or HAD) A degenerative (destructive) neurological condition attributed to HIV infection, characterized by a group of clinical presentations including loss of coordination, mood swings, loss of inhibitions, and widespread inability to think. It is the most common central nervous system complication of HIV infection.

AIDS Wasting Syndrome

An AIDS-defining condition that includes at least 10% weight loss in the presence of diarrhea, chronic weakness, and documented fever for at least 30 days that is not the result of another infection or disease. In developing countries, it is often called "slim disease."

AIDS-Related Cancers

Several cancers are more common or more aggressive in persons living with HIV. These malignancies include certain types of immune system cancers known as lymphomas, Kaposi sarcoma, and anogenital cancers that primarily affect the anus and the cervix.

AIDS-Related Complex (ARC)

(Early symptomatic HIV infection) A group of common complications found in early stages of HIV infection. They include progressive generalized lymphadenopathy (PGL), recurrent fever, unexplained weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, herpes, hairy leukoplakia, fungus infection of the mouth and throat, and the presence of HIV antibodies. Also includes symptoms that appear to be related to infection by HIV such as an unexplained, chronic deficiency of white blood cells (leukopenia) or a poorly functioning lymphatic system with swelling of the lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy) lasting for >3 months without the opportunistic infections required for a diagnosis of AIDS.

See AIDS Wasting Syndrome.

Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT)

A liver enzyme that plays a role in protein metabolism. Abnormally high blood levels of ALT are a sign of liver inflammation or damage from infection or drugs. A normal level is below approximately 50 IU/L.

Alkaline Phosphatase

An enzyme normally present in certain cells within the liver, bone, kidney, intestine, and placenta. When the cells are destroyed in those tissues, more of the enzyme leaks into the blood, and levels rise in proportion to the severity of the condition. Measurement of this enzyme is used as an indication of the health of the liver.


Loss of hair that frequently occurs in patients undergoing treatment for cancer or suffering from other diseases, such as AIDS, where cell-killing, or cytotoxic, drugs are used.

Alpha Interferon (Interferon Alpha, IFN)

A protein produced by the immune system in response to infection that assists in controlling virus infection.

Alternate Test Site

A site that provides only HIV services. Sometimes referred to as an anonymous test site.

Alternative Medicine

A broad category of treatment systems (e.g. chiropractic, herbal medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, and spiritual devotions) or culturally based healing traditions such as Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Christian Science. Alternative medicines share the common characteristic of nonacceptance by the biomedical (i.e. mainstream Western) establishment. Alternative medicine is also referred to as "complementary medicine." The designation "alternative medicine" is not equivalent to holistic medicine, a narrower term.


An inflammation of the intestines caused by infection with Entamoeba histolytica (a type of ameba) and characterized by frequent, loose stools flecked with blood and mucus.

Anal Intercourse/ Anal Sex

A type of sexual intercourse in which a man inserts his penis in his partner's anus. Anal sex can be insertive or receptive.

Anaphylactic Shock

A life-threatening allergic reaction characterized by a swelling of body tissues (including the throat) and a sudden decrease in blood pressure. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, violent coughing, and tightness of the chest.


Antenatal clinic


A lower than normal number of red blood cells.


The loss or weakening of the body's immunity to an irritating agent, or antigen. Patients may be so immunodeficient that they are unable to produce a reaction to an infectious agent. For example, such patients will usually not test positive for tuberculosis (TB) on a tuberculin skin test (or Mantoux test).


Related to the anal (rectum) and/or genital (sexual) area of the body.


Without an ability to identify a person. In anonymous testing, patient-identifying information is not linked to testing information, including the request for tests or test results.


The lack or loss of appetite that leads to significant decline in weight.


Occurring before birth.


The period between conception and birth. Same as prenatal.


A natural or manufactured substance that prevents the growth of bacteria or fungi. Some antibiotics are used to treat infectious diseases.


Substances in the blood or other body fluids that destroy bacteria, viruses, or other harmful agents (antigens). They are members of a class of proteins known as immunoglobulins, which are produced by special white blood cells called B-lymphocytes.

Antibody-Dependent Cell-Mediated Cytotoxicity (ADCC)

An immune response in which antibodies bind to target cells, identifying them for attack by the immune system.

Antibody-Mediated Immunity

Also called humoral immunity. Immunity that results from the activity of antibodies in blood and lymphoid tissue.


A substance that kills or slows the growth of a fungus.


A substance that, when introduced into the body, stimulates production of an antibody.


A substance that prevents the development or growth of cancer cells.


A substance that kills or inhibits the growth of single-celled microorganisms called protozoa, such as Pneumocystis jiroveci.


A substance that kills or suppresses a retrovirus, such as HIV.

Antiretroviral Drugs

Substances used to kill or stop the multiplication of retroviruses such as HIV.


A substance or process that destroys a virus or suppresses its replication (i.e. reproduction).

Aphthous Ulcer

A painful mouth or throat sore of unknown cause. Aphthous ulcers are common in persons living with HIV.

Approved Drugs

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and similar government departments must approve a substance as a drug before it can be sold.




Antiretroviral therapy


A pain in a joint.


A fungal infection--resulting from the fungus Aspergillus--of the lungs that can spread through the blood to other organs. Symptoms include fever, chills, difficulty in breathing, and coughing up blood.


A qualitative or quantitative analysis of a substance; a test.


Without symptoms or not sick. Usually used in HIV/AIDS literature to describe a person who has a positive reaction to one of several tests for HIV antibodies but who shows no clinical symptoms of the disease and who is not sick. Even though a person is asymptomatic, he or she may still infect another person with HIV.


Loss of balance.


Weakened or decreased. For example, an attenuated virus can no longer produce disease but might be used to produce a vaccine.


See Zidovudine.