Sex Advice

Dear Dr. Locker: What is the difference between HIV and AIDS? What happens if someone gets HIV or AIDS?

Answer from Dr. Locker

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

HIV weakens the body's immune system until it is unable to fight diseases. In many cases, a person can live a normal life with HIV by taking strong medication, and having low stress, good fitness and good nutrition. However, if HIV progresses, then in the final stages of the HIV infection, a person’s immune system is weakened so much that he or she begins to get certain types of life-threatening ('fatal') diseases. AIDS is diagnosed when the person contracts specific diseases. These “AIDS defining diseases” include pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, Karposi Sarcoma cancer tumors, or cryptococcal meningitis. HIV is also said to have become AIDS when someone has a T-cell CD4 count below 200. (T-cells are white blood cells that help the body fight infection. Healthy adults have a count of 1,000 or more.)

Someone who has HIV does not necessarily have AIDS. Yet someone who has AIDS has HIV. You could say that HIV causes AIDS. Or you could say that if someone has HIV then they do not yet have AIDS, but they will probably develop it in the future. Although, I must point out that some people have been living with HIV –living normal lives -- without getting AIDS, for 20 years.

There is no cure for AIDS. There is no vaccine to prevent HIV. As I mentioned, if someone gets HIV, there are medications and treatments that aim to help keep the person from getting AIDS.


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