What is HIV?



HIV is a chronic disease which means it does not have a cure. However, with correct treatment, it can be managed. If you have tested positive for HIV, it can be difficult to accept it. Speak to your doctor if you are struggling.


What is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks immunity cells that help the body fight infection (CD4 cells), causing you to become vulnerable to infections and diseases. It is spread by contact with bodily fluids, meaning it can be spread through blood, semen, breast milk, and/or vaginal secretions from an infected person.

If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).


What is AIDS?

AIDS is the late stage of an HIV infection. This happens when the body’s immune system has been damaged because  of the virus. Adhering to your medication can delay the progression of the HIV infection and can even stop you from developing AIDS.


A person with HIV is considered to have progressed to AIDS when:

  • The number of their CD4 cells (main immunity cells targeted by the virus), falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. A healthy immune system has a CD4 count of  between 500 and 1,600 cells/mm3.


  • They develop one or more opportunistic infections regardless of their CD4 count.



There are several symptoms of HIV. Not everyone will have the same symptoms. It depends on the person and what stage of the disease they are in.


There are 3 stages of HIV:


Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection

This occurs within the first 2 to 4 weeks of infection with HIV. About two-thirds of people will have flu-like symptoms. This is the body’s response to the virus when it enters the body initially. 

During this stage, the person will experience flu-like symptoms which can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Some people do not have any symptoms at all.


Stage 2: Clinical Latency

During this stage, the virus still multiplies, but at a very slow rate. People in this stage may not feel sick or have any symptoms. This stage is also called the chronic HIV infection. Without HIV treatment, people can stay in this stage for 10 or 15 years, but some move through this stage faster.

If you take HIV medicine every day, exactly as prescribed and keep an undetectable viral load, you can protect yourself and have effectively little to no risk of transmitting HIV.


Stage 3: AIDS

Refer to first page of this article where this was explained.




Written by Dr Ruusa Shivute | Health Window

References: Fanales-Belasio E, Raimondo M, Suligoi B, Buttò S. HIV virology and pathogenetic mechanisms of infection: a brief overview. Ann Ist Super Sanita. 2010;46(1):5-14.

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