Many people believe the common misconception that HIV and AIDS are interchangeable. However, it is essential to know that there is a distinction between the two. If you are wondering what is the difference between HIV and AIDS, this article will walk you through understanding what separates them apart and how these two are alike.
HIV and AIDS Are Not Interchangeable
HIV and AIDS are not the same conditions in a scientific essence, nor are they the same diagnosis. HIV, also known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that attacks its host’s immune system. It specifically targets CD4 cells, a white blood cell responsible for defense and immunity. When a person has an HIV infection, they develop a weak immune system, affecting their body’s ability to battle even the most uncomplicated illnesses and disorders. Some may have the ability to fight off viruses, but complete eradication is not possible.
Antiretroviral therapy can minimize the effects of a human immunodeficiency virus. They can slow down and halt its progression by reducing the amount of virus in their bloodstream. Ultimately, a person with an HIV infection can return to their healthy state.
On the other hand, AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a range of symptoms from a person with an HIV infection. If an HIV-infected person fails to receive the proper antiretroviral therapy, there is a higher chance that the HIV infection will progress to AIDS.
Therefore, HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable. A person with an HIV infection can develop AIDS, but a person cannot have AIDS without having HIV first.
The Role of Opportunistic Infections
The human immunodeficiency virus focuses on damaging the immune system. When the virus successfully attacks the immune system, there is a higher risk of developing an opportunistic infection. These infections soon develop to become life-threatening health conditions. In a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an opportunistic infection can become severe to individuals who have a weak immune system. These infections can occur more frequently because an HIV-infected body will not be able to fight against it.
Here are some opportunistic infections that may develop in those with an HIV infection:
- Fungal infections
- Viral Infections
- Parasitic infections
The above infections may combine to become what experts call co-infections. A weak immune system won’t function properly, which allows the two conditions to come together.
Stages of HIV Infection
There are three stages of HIV infection. The first stage is the acute HIV stage which starts between two to four weeks after exposure to the virus. During this time, an HIV-infected person will experience flu-like symptoms. The second stage is the clinical latency stage. In this stage, the virus activates and begins to reproduce slowly. Symptoms can develop, but there are times that it is unnoticeable. This time is your last chance to stop the virus from its progression. Medication and treatment are necessary during this stage. The third and final stage is what we already know to be AIDS. When an HIV infection reaches the third stage, one or two opportunistic infections develop and attack cells responsible for immunity.
According to a study by HIV.gov, a person with a CD4 cell count lower than 200 cells per cubic millimeters automatically has AIDS. This rate will then progress depending on various factors, including age, genetics, general health, and the presence of other infections. However, it is essential to know that not all people who have HIV infection will develop AIDS. Unfortunately, there are still no reports that could claim why some HIV infections do not progress.
The creation of antiretroviral therapy for the human immunodeficiency virus is one of the most successful breakthroughs in medical history. This treatment can reduce the virus’s levels within the person’s bloodstream to the extent that it makes it too low to be significant.
If an individual undergoes this treatment, there is a reduction of HIV. The levels of HIV become undetectable and would not cause any harm to the host’s body. During this point, experts believe that the virus deactivates and becomes intransmissible.
Success in antiretroviral therapy allows an HIV-infected person to live their life without limitations. The earlier the treatment is, the more you can expect an increase in your quality of life.
HIV and AIDS Prevention
To prevent the contraction of HIV and to lower the possibilities of acquiring AIDS, it is essential to take the following steps:
- Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP
PrEP is a prophylactic medication that prevents a human immunodeficiency virus from developing, even if you already have exposure to HIV. This pill is necessary to protect people who are at a high risk of contracting the virus.
- Post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP
In connection with PrEP, you can take a PEP if you have recent exposure to HIV. PEP is an emergency medication that doctors could give to reduce the chances of developing HIV infection even after exposure. Experts advise taking PEP seventy-two hours after exposure. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), PEP can successfully reduce the cases of HIV infection by more than eight percent.
- Practice safe sex
The use of condoms can help with your protection against several health problems. Aside from HIV, many infections can spread through sexual intercourse. Practicing safe sex can help prevent the occurrence of acquiring these viruses.
- Protection during pregnancy
If a woman has an HIV infection during her conception, several treatment options can prevent the child from getting the virus. Taking pre-natal treatments can reduce the occurrence of sharing the virus. Additionally, there can also be certain precautions, including the complete avoidance of vaginal delivery and breastfeeding. Your doctor will advise whichever is the best option depending on your situation.
- Reducing exposure to body fluids and ensure personal hygiene
Whether you are undergoing a blood transfusion, having an injection, or getting a tattoo, it is critical to ensure that you are not sharing any needles with anyone. HIV can quickly spread through blood-to-blood contact. Aside from blood, body fluids are also a great carrier of HIV. Viruses thrive in body fluids and quickly moves from one surface to another. Use protective gloves, sanitary masks, and other barriers to reduce your chances of exposure to the virus.
Thoroughly washing your hands and skin is the fastest and most effective way to reduce any viral exposure.
There are a lot of similarities and differences between HIV and AIDS. These two are interconnected but not interchangeable. Having the proper knowledge about its diagnosis, treatment, and prevention can go a long way to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.
If you happen to notice any signs and symptoms that might relate to HIV infection, consult with your doctor immediately. With early detection and the necessary treatment plans, you can fight off HIV and delay its progression to AIDS.
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