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Glossary of HIV/AIDS Terms

for Health Care Providers

Glossary of HIV/AIDS Terms


Joint United Nations Program on AIDS.


Usually refers to suppression of the HIV viral load to below the level that laboratory tests can measure, (e.g. <50 copies/mL) through the use of antiretroviral therapy.

See Virologic suppression.

Universal precautions

A simple set of effective practices designed to protect health workers and patients from infection with a range of pathogens, including blood-borne viruses. These practices are used when caring for all patients regardless of diagnosis.


Usually, the numbers of individuals who agree to a procedure such as the number of pregnant women who agree to take an HIV test or agree to participate in prenatal care.


Inoculation of a substance into the body for the purpose of producing active immunity against a disease. Initially associated with smallpox vaccination but now often used interchangeably with immunization.

See Vaccine.


A substance that contains antigenic components from an infectious microorganism. By stimulating an immune response — but not the disease — it protects against subsequent infection by that organism. There can be preventive vaccines (e.g. measles or mumps) as well as therapeutic (treatment) vaccines.

See Therapeutic HIV vaccine; Antigen.

Vaginal candidiasis

Infection of the vagina caused by the yeastlike fungus Candida (especially Candida albicans). Symptoms include, pain, itching, redness, and white patches in the vaginal wall. It can occur in all women, but it is especially common in women with HIV infection. The usual treatment is a cream applied locally to the vagina. Women with HIV infection may experience frequent reoccurrence of symptoms and may require systemic medications in order to treat these symptoms successfully.

See Candidiasis.

Vaginal intercourse

A type of sexual intercourse in which the penis enters the vagina.

Vaginal sex

Vaginal intercourse.

Valley fever

See Coccidioidomycosis.

Varicella-zoster virus (VZV)

A virus in the herpes family that causes chickenpox during childhood and may reactivate later in life to cause shingles.


Voluntary counseling and testing.


(Venereal Disease Research Laboratory) A test for syphilis.


The puncture of a vein (usually in the arm) with a hollow-bore needle for the purpose of obtaining a blood specimen.

Vertical transmission

Transmission of a pathogen such as HIV from mother to fetus or baby during pregnancy or birth.

See Perinatal transmission.

Viral culture

A laboratory method for growing viruses.

Viral load

The amount of HIV in the circulating blood. Sicker patients generally have more virus than those with less advanced disease. A viral load test is used to monitor the HIV viral burden. Suppression of the HIV viral load is the first goal of antiretroviral therapy (ART), and monitoring a person's viral load is key to assessing the success of ART.

See Viral load test; Polymerase chain reaction (PCR); Branched DNA assay.

Viral load test

In relation to HIV, a test that measures the quantity of HIV RNA in the blood. Results are expressed as the number of copies per milliliter of blood plasma. Viral load testing for HIV infection is used as a test for the presence of HIV and for monitoring the effectiveness of therapy.

See Viral load.


The presence of virus in the bloodstream.

See Sepsis.


Any agent that destroys or inactivates a virus.


A virus particle existing freely outside a host cell. A mature virus.

Virologic suppression

Suppression of viral replication by antiviral therapy.

See Undetectable.


The study of viruses and viral disease.


Organism composed mainly of nucleic acid within a protein coat. When viruses enter a living plant, animal, or bacterial cell, they make use of the host cell's chemical energy, protein, and nucleic acid-synthesizing ability to multiply. Some viruses do not kill cells but transform them into a cancerous state. Some cause illness and then seem to disappear, while remaining dormant and later causing another, sometimes much more severe, form of disease. In humans, viruses cause measles, mumps, yellow fever, poliomyelitis, influenza, and the common cold, among others. Some viral infections can be treated with drugs.


Involving the major organs inside the body.

Voluntary HIV testing

An individual is usually counseled regarding HIV prevention and how HIV infection occurs. Participants have the opportunity to accept or refuse HIV testing.