What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. A person with the virus is called "HIV positive." HIV weakens the immune system (the system in the body that protects it from disease). A person with a weakened immune system becomes sick more easily. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS patients suffer so-called "opportunistic infections" and related symptoms. These infections only get the opportunity to cause disease when the immune system is weakened. These may include certain types of cancer and infections of the lungs, intestinal tract, brain, skin, eyes and other organs. Symptoms include weight loss, diarrhea and problems of the nervous system. AIDS patients find it increasingly difficult to fight off these opportunistic infections as their immune systems become weaker. Most ultimately die as a result of them.

If you recognize these symptoms or have engaged in any of the activities listed in the section What are the risk factors for HIV/AIDS?, you should be tested for the virus. If you test negative but the symptoms persist, consider being re-tested in several months.

HIV/AIDS is incurable. But HIV is also preventable and treatable. Learn how to prevent and treat HIV infection.

In 1999, HIV disease was the second leading cause of death for men age 25-44 and for women age 18-44. Among African American men 18-44, HIV was the leading cause of death.

To learn more:

(National Library of Medicine)
HIV/AIDS from MEDLINEplus includes links to many HIV/AIDS sites which have been reviewed by medical librarians. There are pages in English, Spanish, and other languages. Easy-to-read items are listed. It also provides on-line videos, which answer questions about HIV/AIDS in both audio and American Sign Language. Several sites answer FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) from reliable sources.

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Written by: Janice C. May, M.P.A.
Reviewed by: Jeffrey G. Schultze, M.D.
Links by: Lisa Antley-Hearn. B.A.
Last Modified: Friday February 17, 2017 6:52 PM