What is HIV and What is AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. HIV can be transmitted through the blood, sexual fluids, or breast milk of an HIV-infected person. People can get HIV if one of these fluids enters the body and into the bloodstream. The disease can be passed during unprotected sex with a HIV-infected person. An HIV-infected mother can transmit HIV to her infant during pregnancy, delivery or while breastfeeding. People can also become infected with HIV when using injection drugs through sharing needles and other equipment.

Over time, infection with HIV can weaken the immune system to the point that the system has difficulty fighting off certain infections. These types of infections are known as opportunistic infections. These infections are usually controlled by a healthy immune system, but they can cause problems or even be life-threatening in someone with AIDS. The immune system of a person with AIDS has weakened to the point that medical intervention may be necessary to prevent or treat serious illness.

A blood test can determine if a person is infected with HIV, but if a person tests positive for HIV, it does not necessarily mean that the person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician according to the CDC AIDS Case Definition. A person infected with HIV may receive an AIDS diagnosis after developing one of the CDC-defined AIDS indicator illnesses. A person with HIV can also receive an AIDS diagnosis on the basis of certain blood tests (CD4 counts) and may not have experienced any serious illnesses.

Useful HIV/AIDS Links:

UNAIDS - The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

The Body - An excellent overall AIDS reference site. It is searchable, and includes a forum on treatment.

AIDS InfoNet - The AIDS InfoNet is a project of the New Mexico AIDS Education and Training Center in the Infectious Diseases Division of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

Kaiser Family Foundation HIV/AIDS archives - A database of publications on issues related to HIV and AIDS from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

AIDS Education Global Information System (AEGIS) - AEGIS describes itself as "the largest HIV knowledge base in the world." Their site includes a large section of Links.


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