What is HIV ?
HIV stands for the “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”. The virus that infects human beings uses the defense cells charged to fight microbes and infections to reproduce, and then destroys these cells. As a result, the immune system becomes less efficient. People who are infected by this virus are HIV positive.
But a person who is infected by HIV does not automatically have AIDS and can live for years without developing AIDS.
- What is AIDS ?
AIDS stands for “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome”. A person who contracts AIDS automatically has HIV as AIDS is the final stage of HIV.
What happens is that at a certain point, the number of CD4 cells (defense cells) in your body is so low that your immune system can’t fight infections and diseases anymore. Some infections take advantage of the weak immune system by multiplying. That is why we call them “opportunistic infections “. When one or more specific opportunistic infections appear, or the number of CD4 cells is very low, this is AIDS.
- How can you get infected?
Having unprotected vaginal, anal or (more rarely) oral sex with a person who has HIV is the most common way to get infected. A child can also contract the disease from an HIV-positive mother who is not taking antiretroviral therapy; or it can be contracted from sharing needles with an HIV-infected person.
It is important to know that a person can live with HIV for many years without developing AIDS or any symptoms of HIV infection. There are many people living with HIV without knowing it. That is why you need to use a condom every time you have sex and get tested regularly, especially after risky behavior, even with someone you trust.
Furthermore, many people don’t know how to use a condom. Here is a video on proper condom use.
Video by Ronnie Shaw
* Illustrations from aids.gov