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Is HIV the same thing as AIDS? Do all people with AIDS die from it?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a viral infection that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). When people are first infected with HIV, they often have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. Not all people with HIV develop AIDS. It’s impossible to say how someone’s body will respond to the infection. People living with HIV today can receive treatments that help them live longer, healthier lives. Without treatment, most people with HIV, over time, get a weakened immune system that makes them more susceptible to infections and diseases that people with healthy immune systems typically don’t get. This is why it is so important for people to get tested and start treatment if they have HIV.

People with HIV can use medications to help build their immune system and decrease the amount of the virus in the body or what is called their “viral load.” HIV medication can make the viral load so low that a test cannot detect it. Here are some of the ways that people living with HIV can ensure their viral load is undetectable:

    • Take their medication daily as prescribed. (When people don’t take their medication it can increase their viral load and the risk of HIV transmission.)
    • See their health care provider regularly to get their viral load checked. (Testing regularly is the only way to know if you have an undetectable viral load.)

There are a few ways to prevent transmitting HIV to someone who is not infected. Condoms when used correctly and consistently during sex are highly effective at preventing the spread of the virus. Having an undetectable amount of the virus in the body is also very important because people with undetectable viral loads cannot pass HIV on to a partner who is not infected. People who do not have HIV can also take a daily medication called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent getting the virus.

Without treatment, HIV weakens the immune system, allowing specific infections and diseases to occur. At this point, the person is diagnosed with AIDS. People with an AIDS diagnosis still have HIV in their bodies, and if they have unprotected sex or share needles, they can transmit the virus to someone else—before and after an AIDS diagnosis.

For more information, check out the following sites:

Want to get tested for HIV? Find a clinic near you. Also check out the Sex, Etc. stories “Does HIV Look Like Me?” and “I Have HIV…but HIV Does Not Have Me.” You might also want to read “Love & HIV: A Relationship That Works!”

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