Donate Now

Share This Page

HIV: The Basics

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that weakens the immune system. Because it’s a virus, there’s no cure for HIV, although there are treatments that can delay the severity of the disease. Over time, HIV can lead to advanced HIV disease (also known as AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV can be transmitted from person to person through sexual activity, sharing drug use equipment, and during pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding. HIV isn’t transmitted through the air, nor is it transmitted through tears or saliva. A blood test can indicate whether you have come in contact with HIV. If you produce HIV antibodies, you have been exposed and are considered HIV-positive.

What is HIV?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is an infection that needs a living host (cells in the body) in order to reproduce itself. You cannot be cured of HIV by taking antibiotics or any other medication, but there are things you can do and medications you can take to help to keep your symptoms manageable.

You can have HIV and live a long and healthy life. HIV may not produce obvious symptoms you can see for many years after infection, so you may have it and not know it.

How does HIV affect the body?

HIV causes long term damage to your body. It creates ongoing inflammation that affects your circulation, heart and other organs. It also weakens your immune system, which is your body’s defence against illness and infection. When your immune system is weakened by HIV, you become vulnerable to other illnesses. It weakens your immunity in several ways:

  • HIV kills healthy immune cells, called white blood cells or CD4 cells
  • HIV makes copies of itself, which attack the CD4 white blood cells
  • As HIV makes more copies of itself in your body, it’s harder to fight infections and illnesses. You may progress to advanced HIV disease (AIDS) .

 What is AIDS or advanced HIV disease?

AIDS is an acronym ( term) that’s being replaced by “Advanced HIV disease.”  Nevertheless, the meaning of AIDS offers a good explanation of what happens as HIV progresses. AIDS stands for:

  • Acquired means that you are not born with the syndrome, you get it and it progressively affects the body.
  • Immune refers to your body’s defence system against illness and infection.
  • Deficiency refers to the weakening of the immune system.
  • Syndrome refers to a set of infections that indicate immune system breakdown. These infections are called “opportunistic infections”.

Historically, An AIDS diagnosis was given when an HIV+ person’s CD4 blood cells dropped below a certain level and they had an opportunistic infection, indicating the a progressive breakdown of the immune system. These days people may have low CD4 counts and an opportunistic infection, but with the help of HIV treatment, deal with both and return to health.

If you want to talk with someone about HIV, you can contact Positive Women’s Network for non-judgmental, informed support in British Columbia. If you want to connect with your local HIV/AIDS organization, visit our links to other organizations and resources.

Also on this website: