HIV and AIDS
What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Acquired – means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease-causing agent (in this case, HIV). Immunodeficiency – means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system. Syndrome – refers to a group of symptoms that indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS, this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight disease.
Before the development of certain medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Currently, people can live much longer - even decades - with HIV before they develop AIDS. This is because of “highly active” combinations of medications that were introduced in the mid 1990s.
A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using specific clinical or laboratory standards.
How long does it take for HIV to cause AIDS?
Prior to 1996, scientists estimated that about half the people with HIV would develop AIDS within 10 years after becoming infected. This time varied greatly from person to person and depended on many factors, including a person's health status and their health-related behaviors.
Since 1996, the introduction of powerful antiretroviral therapies has dramatically changed the progression time between HIV infection and the development of AIDS. There are also other medical treatments that can prevent or cure some of the illnesses associated with AIDS, though the treatments do not cure AIDS itself. Because of these advances in drug therapies and other medical treatments, estimates of how many people will develop AIDS and how soon are being recalculated, revised, or are currently under study.
As with other diseases, early detection of infection allows for more options for treatment and preventative health care.
How can I tell if I’m infected with HIV?
The only way to know if you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more.
The following may be warning signs of advanced HIV infection:
However, no one should assume they are infected if they have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. Again, the only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. For information on where to find an HIV testing site, visit the National HIV Testing Resources Web site or call CDC-INFO 8A-8P (EST) M-F. Closed weekends and major federal holidays at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), 1-888-232-6348 (TTY), in English, en Español. These resources are confidential. You can also ask your health care provider to give you an HIV test.
You also cannot rely on symptoms to establish that a person has AIDS. The symptoms of AIDS are similar to the symptoms of many other illnesses. AIDS is a medical diagnosis made by a doctor based on specific criteria established by the CDC. For more information refer to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report “1993 Revised Classification System for HIV Infection and Expanded Surveillance Case Definition for AIDS Among Adolescents and Adults”.
If you would like more information or have personal concerns, call CDC-INFO 8A-8P (EST) M-F. Closed weekends and major federal holidays at 1-800-CDC- INFO (232-4636), 1-888-232-6348 (TTY), in English, en Español.
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