HIV Basics

There is a lot of information available about HIV, particularly on the Internet and at times this can be conflicting, overwhelming and confusing.

The following is the basic information you need to gain a good overview of HIV.

So what is HIV?
HIV is a virus which attacks the immune system. The immune system is the body’s natural defence that protects against disease and ill health.

If left untreated, HIV can make the immune system get weaker and weaker. As a result, the body is unable to fight off infections, and therefore the person may become ill. Unfortunately, people can die from untreated HIV, as over time the immune system is unable to protect the body effectively. HIV is a virus which weakens the human immune system. Therefore, HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
The term AIDS is often misquoted by many people including the general media. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and is not the same as HIV. The term AIDS is correctly used to describe a situation when someone’s immune system has been severely weakened by the virus HIV. As this person’s immune system is damaged, they are more likely to pick up other infections and diseases. Common infections include a certain type of pneumonia call Pneumocystis Pneumonia (PCP), Tuberculosis (TB) and certain cancers such as the skin cancer Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS). These infections are also known as opportunistic infections as they are rarely seen in people with healthy immune systems.

A common misconception is that AIDS can be passed on. This is not the case. HIV, the virus which can lead to AIDS (Advanced HIV), can be passed between individuals, but AIDS is merely a term used to describe a a range of conditions which can arise when the immune system has been seriously weakened by HIV.