Often HIV and AIDS are used interchangeably however these terms are different as someone who has AIDS is HIV positive, however an individual who is HIV positive does not necessarily have AIDS. Understanding the stages of HIV can help distinguish the differences between the two diagnoses.
Primary Infection Stage
Once an individual is exposed to the HIV virus, whether it is through oral, genital or anal sex or a blood transfusion, the individual is immediately infected with HIV and is infectious to others. An individual will only test positive with an HIV test one to three months after infection due to the body’s creation of antibodies that are naturally produced by the body to act as a defense to the new infection. A “false negative” and false sense of security will result if the HIV test is conducted too soon after the intercourse or blood transfusion due to the test’s lack of ability to detect the antibodies which often take three months to surface, but can take up to six months for a detectable amount.
HIV positive individuals are often undiagnosed because they appear to be, and feel healthy. Often individuals will only discover their HIV positive status after a positive HIV antibody test, or after learning that a previous partner is HIV positive. Early detection and treatment is the best way to slow the inevitable damage to the immune system.
Symptomatic HIV Infection Stage
The HIV virus will ‘hijack’ the body’s T helper cells, which are a key component in the immune system by detecting foreign antigens and protecting against them. As the virus grows the body is unable to keep up with the quickly evolving HIV virus and the immune system will begin to fail. Due to a weakening immune system the individual must be aware of opportunistic infections that a healthy immune system would easily be able to defend against. Severe weight loss, anemia, persistent fever, oral ulcers, and repeated respiratory tract infections are physical symptoms associated with being HIV positive.
Progression from HIV to AIDS Stage
As the immune system deteriorates faster and faster, an HIV positive individual can succumb to the AIDS virus. An individual may be diagnosed with AIDS after being exposed to several opportunistic infections, or if their T helper cell count is dangerously low.