What You Need to Know About the Difference Between HIV and AIDS

HIV And AIDS. Are They Both The Same Thing? - DoctorOnCall

What are HIV And AIDS?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV and AIDS are major public health problems in the world and have claimed over 33 million lives. WHO also estimates about 38 million people will be living with HIV by the end of 2019.

HIV infection and AIDS can affect anyone regardless of race and genders. Most of us are often confused with these two terms, HIV and AIDS. Although different, these two terms are closely related. This article will explain further on what are the differences between HIV and AIDS. Back then, having infected with HIV were considered the death penalty. But with the advancement of medical technology nowadays, HIV and AIDS patients are able to control their disease and the life expectancy of HIV patients becomes longer.


The human Immunodeficiency Virus or better known as HIV is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. If left untreated, the body's immune system will become weaker and makes the body easier to get infections and later causes a person to have AIDS.

HIV will attack CD4 T cells which are one of the main cells that are the body's defence for example to prevent bacterial infections from occurring. If HIV treatment is not given, HIV patients can get AIDS within 2 to 15 years after being infected with the virus.


Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a complication of HIV infection. This condition occurs if the number of CD4 cells is less than 200 cells/mm3. The diagnosis of AIDS is more complicated than that of HIV because various factors need to be taken into account. At this stage, the immune system has become so weak that it cannot protect the body. Without treatment, the life expectancy of AIDS patients is only three years. Therefore, patients with HIV need to be compliant in taking medications to avoid complications of HIV and getting AIDS.

How Is HIV Different From AIDS?

HIV is a virus and AIDS is the complication of HIV infection. AIDS is also known as the last stage of HIV (third stage).

The diagnosis of AIDS is usually made when an HIV patient comes with multiple types of infections at one time (opportunistic infections) as the sign that the patient has a weakened immune system and is supported by low CD4 cell readings and high viral load.

Stage of HIV Infection

First Stage (acute HIV)

This stage is known as the acute stage (acute HIV infection) where a person who has been infected will show symptoms for at least 2 weeks after being infected with HIV. Acute symptoms of HIV infection are non-specific. Diagnosis is usually made based on medical history for example drug use and sexual history, as well as supported by the results of laboratory investigations. 

Second Stage (chronic HIV)

At this stage, most infected individuals do not show any symptoms and only show mild symptoms as in the first stage. However, HIV remains active in the body and is multiplying in number. At this stage, HIV treatment is important to stop the replication of the virus and prevent the progression of the disease into AIDS. 

Third Stage (AIDS)

The third stage is also known as AIDS and at this stage, various types of infections can occur at one time. This is because the CD4 cell value is too low and the virus count is too high. Among the infections, medical problems or complications that can be experienced by AIDS patients are:

  • Tuberculosis: Tuberculosis is one of the most common HIV -related infections. It is also one of the leading causes of HIV-related deaths worldwide.

  • Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP): PCP is a fungal infection of the lungs and is the cause of lung infections in HIV patients.

  • Candidiasis: This can be seen where there is a white membrane covering the surface of the tongue or other parts of the body like the genitals.

  • Cytomegalovirus infection: This infection can interfere with the digestive system, vision, lungs and other organs.

  • Cancer: HIV and AIDS patients are also at risk for HIV -related cancers such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and lymphoma.

Due to this weakened immune system, AIDS patients can also show some symptoms due to various types of infections, such as:

  • Recurrent fever.

  • Frequent diarrhoea.

  • Swollen lymph nodes especially in the neck, armpits and genitals.

  • The body is extremely fatigued and weak for no apparent reason.

  • Ulcers or spots in the mouth, tongue, genitals and anus.

  • Skin rashes.

  • Sudden weight loss without apparent reason.

  • Loss of appetite.

In addition, individuals with AIDS also have a high amount of virus (viral load) and because of this, they are easier to spread HIV to others. 

Myths of HIV and AIDS

There are various types of myths related to HIV/AIDS and due to these myths, various stigmas arise in our society and cause those who suffer from this disease to be discriminated against and marginalized. Here are some myths and facts related to this disease.

Myth 1

HIV and AIDS are the same diseases.

Fact 1

Wrong. HIV is a disease caused by HIV while AIDS is a complication that occurs if HIV is not controlled and treated and will then weaken the body’s immune system.

Myth 2 

HIV/AIDS is a death sentence.

Fact 2 

With the advancement of medical technology today, HIV can be controlled and AIDS can be prevented with the availability of drugs to increase the number of CD4 cells and reduce the viral load. 

Myth 3

HIV/AIDS is caused by homosexuality and drug use alone.

Fact 3

This is not accurate at all! HIV/AIDS can infect a person regardless of sexual orientation and drug use alone. In a nutshell, HIV/AIDS can infect individuals through:

  • Random sex (exchanging partners and not using protection)

  • Sharing needles among drug addicts

  • Exposure to body fluids such as blood and semen

  • Born of HIV-positive mothers

Myth 4

“I have taken Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), so I don't have to use a condom to do sexual activity”.

Fact 4

Although PrEP lowers the risk of being infected with HIV, condom use is highly recommended especially if you are unaware of your sexual partner’s HIV status to increase the effectiveness in preventing virus transmission. This is supported by the fact that PrEP does not prevent you from other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea and syphilis. Prevention is better than cure, right?

Myth 5

Women with HIV cannot have children because the child will be HIV positive.

Fact 5

This will only be true if an HIV -positive woman or mother does not plan her pregnancy and does not take medication. With current medical advances, HIV-positive mothers can conceive and give birth safely.

HIV medications (antiretroviral drugs) should also be continued for several weeks for the baby and studies have found that infant infection rates from HIV-positive mothers can be reduced as low as 1% or lower.


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