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What is HIV?

what is hiv

HIV is a type of virus. It damages the immune system, which keeps your body healthy. HIV can’t be cured, but there is effective HIV treatment available.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It was identified in the early 1980s and belongs to a group of viruses called retroviruses.

HIV stops the body’s immune system working properly. It does this by getting inside cells called CD4 or T-cells. HIV destroys or damages these cells, makes copies of itself and then infects and destroys or damages more cells.

As more cells are destroyed, your immune system gets weaker and can’t fight infections properly. This means you can get illnesses more easily.

HIV treatment can stop this process so that the immune system can still do its job properly.

Modern HIV treatment means that many people with HIV are living long, healthy lives.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

If HIV isn't treated, the gradual weakening of the immune system will leave the body vulnerable to illnesses it would normally be able to fight off.

In the UK, if you develop certain AIDS-defining illnesses or opportunistic infections, you are diagnosed as having AIDS – sometimes called late-stage HIV.

You cannot 'catch AIDS' and there is no AIDS test.

AIDS is not considered a disease, but a syndrome – a collection of different signs and symptoms, all caused by the same virus, HIV.

If you've developed an AIDS-defining illness, this doesn't mean you're on a one-way path to illness and death. Thanks to HIV treatment, many people who were diagnosed as having AIDS in the past are now living long and healthy lives.

More on HIV and AIDS:

Next: HIV transmission: how HIV is and isn't passed on ››



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 21/7/2014 by R. Bignami

Date due for the next review: 21/7/2017

Content Author: S. Corkery (NAM)

Current Owner: G. Hughson (NAM)

More information:

NHS Choices – HIV and AIDS

AVERT – What is HIV?

AVERT - What is AIDS?