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HIV vs AIDS: Know the Difference

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Kathy Kenny Ylaya Ngo · Updated Jul 01, 2021

HIV vs AIDS: Know the Difference

Not everyone who has HIV will have AIDS. But everyone who has AIDS has HIV.  It’s not uncommon to be confused between HIV and AIDS. Some people think that they are one and the same. Though there are similarities, there is a difference between HIV and AIDS.

The Difference Between HIV and AIDS

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV harms the immune system by destroying the white blood cells that help the body fight off infection. When this happens, you are at risk of getting more serious infections as well as certain cancers. If HIV is left untreated, it can be life-threatening. And the cause of death is often from infections that normally the body can fight off. 

People can get infected with HIV if blood (when sharing needles, for example) or body fluid (such as semen or vaginal fluids) from a person with HIV enters their body. It can be prevented by using a condom during sexual intercourse. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

Many people with HIV don’t show any symptoms for years and feel perfectly healthy. This makes them unaware that they are afflicted with HIV and they may unknowingly infect their sexual partners. This is why it’s important to always use protection when having sexual intercourse whether your partner is sick or not. 

There is no cure for HIV. Once you have the virus, you have it for life. But scientific developments in antiretroviral therapy have allowed for people with HIV to live a long and healthy life. The treatments suppress the viral counts which render patients unable to transmit the virus to their sexual partners.

On the other hand, AIDS, which is short for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition that is caused by HIV. The final stage of HIV infection is called AIDS. It is the stage of HIV infection when the immune system is at its weakest. This is the main difference between HIV and AIDS.

difference between hiv and aids

How HIV Spreads

HIV can spread from person to person through unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex, sharing of drug needles, or having an open wound come into contact with certain body fluids  of a person who has HIV. These body fluids are blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluids, and rectal fluids. Please note that these body fluids should come in contact with damaged tissues, mucous membranes, or be injected into the blood stream (such as the case with sharing needles). Oral sex rarely transmits the disease. 

In other words, a person cannot get HIV through casual contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, or sneezing.

Babies can get it if their mothers are HIV positive during pregnancy.  

Symptoms of HIV vs AIDS 

There are several symptoms of HIV but the only way that you can tell that you have HIV is if you get tested. However, prior to testing, you may notice the following symptoms that could indicate that you may have HIV in the acute stage

You may experience flu-like symptoms such as: 

  • Fever and chills
  • Rashes
  • Muscle aches and joint pains
  • Night sweats
  • Sore throats
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Swollen lymph nodes 

Not everyone experiences these symptoms. And even if you get these symptoms, you should not immediately think that you have HIV unless it has already been confirmed by a blood test. 

During the clinical latency stage, the virus continues to multiply. 

At the final stage, it becomes full blown AIDS. This is the most critical difference between HIV and AIDS. 

When you have AIDS, the symptoms will be:

  • Recurring fever
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Extreme and unexplained fatigue
  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands
  • Sores in the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Pneumonia and other lung infections
  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week 
  • Red, brown, or purplish blotches on the skin
  • Memory loss, neurological disorders, and depression 

Most viral infections are controlled by the body’s immune system. HIV infection renders the immune system ineffective, that’s why benign infections become difficult to control–hence they are called opportunistic infections.

A person at risk of HIV who develops the symptoms should consult a doctor. 

Timeframe for HIV to become AIDS

Though treatments are now available for people with HIV so that the disease won’t transition to AIDS, there are those who may not be aware that they have HIV. When this happens, it takes only five to 10 years for HIV to become full blown AIDS. However, certain factors may affect the timeline especially if they receive absolutely no medical treatment. 

  • General and overall health of the person with HIV 
  • Availability of or access to treatment
  • The individual’s genetics or family history 
  • Smoking and substance abuse 
  • Genetic strain of the HIV that a person has been infected with 

Prevention of HIV transmission

HIV is transmitted from person to person. The best way to prevent this from happening is by using protection every time you have oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone. You should also not share needles with anyone and avoid coming into contact with the blood, semen, vaginal or anal fluids as well as breastmilk of someone with HIV. HIV cannot be transmitted via sweat, urine, or saliva. 

To prevent HIV, you need to always remember to use external male condoms or internal female condoms. If you have to inject drugs, make sure that you use a sterile needle and syringe every single time. Sharing of equipment is a big no-no. If you have multiple sexual partners, engage in unprotected sexual intercourse, or use illegal drugs that involve needles, regular testing for HIV is necessary. 

AIDS can be prevented if proper treatment can be done to stop the advance of HIV. You can do this by taking in antiretroviral treatment which is effective and available to all. Antiretroviral treatment reduces the level of HIV in the body to such low levels that a blood test can no longer detect it. 

Key Takeaways

Always remember, a person may have HIV, but it may not lead to AIDS. But anyone who has AIDS has HIV because AIDS is the last stage of an HIV infection. HIV used to be a deadly disease, but it now has treatments available. As long as you take the medication, you can still live a long and healthy life even if you are HIV positive. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Kathy Kenny Ylaya Ngo · Updated Jul 01, 2021

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