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What is HIV?

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HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. ‘Immunodeficiency’ refers to the weakening of the immune system by the virus.

HIV has been passed on between humans for many decades but was only identified in the early 80s. 

What is AIDS?

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AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a collection of illnesses (‘syndrome’) caused by a virus people pick up (‘acquire’) that makes their immune system weak (‘immune deficiency’).

You can’t get an AIDS diagnosis unless you’re already HIV positive.

AIDS or late-stage HIV?


In the 1980s and early 90s, most people with HIV were eventually diagnosed with AIDS.

Now, thanks to modern antiretroviral treatment, very few people in the UK develop serious HIV-related illnesses. The term AIDS isn’t used much by UK doctors. Instead they talk about late-stage or advanced HIV.

Untreated HIV and transmission

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If left untreated, infection with HIV progresses through a series of stages: from flu-like seroconversion illness, through infections associated with the symptomatic stage, leading to late-stage HIV or AIDS.

If someone with HIV has a detectable viral load, they can pass on HIV through blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucus and breast milk.

HIV is not passed on by spitting, sneezing or coughing, nor by kissing or general social contact.

HIV can’t survive for very long once it's outside the human body.