Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life. No safe and effective cure for HIV currently exists, but scientists are working hard to find one, and remain hopeful.
HIV affects specific cells of the immune system, called CD4 cells, or T cells. Over time, if left untreated, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. However, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. It involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV regimen) every day. Today, a person who diagnosed with HIV before the disease is far advanced and who gets and stays on ART can live a nearly normal life span.
The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Testing is relatively simple. You can ask your health care provider for an HIV test. Many medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals offer them, too. You can also get an FDA-approved home HIV testing kit (the Home Access HIV-1 Test System or the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test) from a drugstore.
To find an HIV testing location near you, use the HIV Testing & Care Services Locator.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, and not everyone who has HIV advances to this stage.
AIDS is the stage of infection that occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to opportunistic infections. When the number of your CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3), you are considered to have progressed to AIDS. (Normal CD4 counts are between 500 and 1,600 cells/mm3.) You can also be diagnosed with AIDS if you develop one or more opportunistic infections, regardless of your CD4 count.
Without treatment, people who are diagnosed with AIDS typically survive about 3 years. Once someone has a dangerous opportunistic illness, life expectancy without treatment falls to about 1 year. People with AIDS need medical treatment to prevent death.
Where Did HIV Come From?
Scientists identified a type of chimpanzee in West Africa as the source of HIV infection in humans. They believe that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV) most likely was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood. Studies show that HIV may have jumped from apes to humans as far back as the late 1800s. Over decades, the virus slowly spread across Africa and later into other parts of the world. We know that the virus has existed in the United States since at least the mid- to late 1970s.
Related Topics on AIDS.gov
Last revised: 08/27/2015