The distinction between HIV and AIDS is often misunderstood. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that can lead to the condition called AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).
Although these conditions are linked, the terms refer to specific and separate diagnoses and should not be used interchangeably.
The conflation of HIV with AIDS is partly a hangover from the early years of the epidemic, when people who contracted HIV often progressed quickly to an AIDS diagnosis, and had a poor life expectancy.
Many people living with HIV find the use of the term ‘AIDS’ stigmatising because it is often used pejoratively and does not reflect their experience.
A person who has acquired HIV is described as being ‘HIV-positive’, meaning that they have received a positive result from a blood test screening for HIV antibodies.
HIV can live in the body for years without causing immediate or obvious damage, although the virus is constantly replicating. Many people with HIV look and feel healthy and well. They may not even be aware that they are living with the virus.
People with HIV who opt for early treatment generally have a life expectancy similar to that of HIV-negative people and do not progress to AIDS.
AIDS describes the most advanced stages of HIV infection. Someone who has an AIDS diagnosis has a syndrome characterised by a severely weakened immune system and typically has debilitating symptoms.
Due to the effectiveness of modern antiretroviral treatments, AIDS diagnoses are now rare in Australia.