HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It’s a virus that attacks and weakens the immune system, making it harder to fight off certain illnesses, infections and diseases. The virus locates, destroys and takes over our white blood cells and begins to replicate. HIV can be passed through sex without protection, breast/chestfeeding, or sharing injection drug use equipment such as needles. Taking HIV treatment, being on PrEP, using condoms and lube, and using new drug use equipment each time can all help prevent or reduce the transmission of HIV.
Worsening of HIV happens in 3 stages: Acute (2-6 weeks); Chronic (10 years); and, AIDS.
Stage 1 – Acute
The earliest stage of HIV. This can develop within 2-6 weeks after transmission has occurred. During this time, people may experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever, rash and headache. A person may experience no symptoms at all. Risk of transmission is greatest during this stage because levels of HIV in the blood are highest. A person may experience significant health benefits if started on HIV treatment, known as ART (antiretroviral therapy), during this stage.
Stage 2 – Chronic
Also called “asymptomatic HIV.” The virus is now living in the body and developing, but not producing symptoms. Without treatment, this stage lasts about 10 years, but can progress more quickly in some people.
Stage 3 – AIDS
The final, most advanced stage of HIV. The virus has severely damaged the immune system and the body can no longer fight off certain infections or related cancers.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It’s the most advanced stage of HIV. It’s also referred to as “advanced HIV” or “late-stage HIV.” HIV has progressed to AIDS when (1) the immune system is so weak it becomes vulnerable to opportunistic infections and specific cancers and (2) when the CD4 count falls below 200 cells/mm3 (200 cells/cubic mm of blood).
There is no vaccine or cure for HIV/AIDS, but treatment allows people to manage HIV, live full, healthy lives, and reduce/eliminate the risk of transmitting HIV to others. Starting on treatment is also very good for a person’s health.
Undetectable = Untransmittable: When treatment is taken as prescribed and the viral load (amount of HIV in the blood) is reduced to an undetectable level, HIV cannot be transmitted to others.