HIV and AIDS: Understanding the difference.

Are HIV and Aids the same? Here are some of the key differences between HIV and AIDS which you may not know.

HIV and AIDS: Understanding the difference.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. More specifically, it attacks the white blood cells (also called CD4 or T-cells) which fight off infections in our bodies and over time the HI Virus eventually destroys most or all of these white blood cells.

You can only be diagnosed with AIDS when your CD4 count is below 200, which means you can have HIV but you do not necessarily and automatically have AIDS.

At this point in time, there is no cure for HIV yet, though the advancements in modern medicine mean we can now access treatment more easily, it’s more affordable and easier to administer.

Similar to other chronic manageable conditions, HIV can be controlled allowing the infected person to live many years and even decades after diagnosis. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested and these days the testing procedures are simple and fast. Most government health facilities and community health centres offer HIV testing and counselling. It’s now even possible to buy a home testing kit at a pharmacy or online. Like most viruses, early symptoms of HIV are also flu-like which include fever, chills, night sweats and muscle aches to name a few. While these can last for days or even several weeks they are not always present in all HIV positive people and some people may have HIV for as long as 10 years without exhibiting any symptoms.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) 

HIV and AIDS are not the same things. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. When you are diagnosed with AIDS your CD4 cell count is below 200 cells per cubic millimetre of blood. Not everyone that gets infected with HIV will end up advancing to this stage. As your immune system is almost completely destroyed by this stage, you become susceptible to opportunistic infections. People with AIDS can survive for about 3 years without treatment but if they contract a dangerous opportunistic infection, such as pneumonia, this can be reduced to about a year. People with AIDS need to go onto anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and get the correct drugs from their healthcare practitioners to help manage their condition.

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The world fights

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has begun an aggressive “treat all “campaign aimed at ending AIDS within a generation. Here are some of the key facts about HIV and AIDS that you need to know:

  • HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 34 million lives so far. In 2014, 1.2 [980 000–1.6 million] million people died from HIV-related causes globally.
  • There were approximately 36.9 [34.3–41.4] million people living with HIV at the end of 2014 with 2.0 [1.9–2.2] million people becoming newly infected with HIV in 2014 globally.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region, with 25.8 [24.0–28.7] million people living with HIV in 2014. Also, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for almost 70% of the global total of new HIV infections.
  • HIV infection is often diagnosed through rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), which detect the presence or absence of HIV antibodies. Most often these tests provide same day test results; essential for same-day diagnosis and early treatment and care.
  • There is no cure for HIV infection. However, effective antiretroviral (ARV) drugs can control the virus and help prevent transmission so that people with HIV, and those at substantial risk, can enjoy healthy and productive lives.
  • It is estimated that currently, only 54% of people with HIV know their status. In 2014, approximately 150 million children and adults in 129 low- and middle-income countries received HIV testing services.
  • By mid-2015, 15.8 million people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) globally.
  • Between 2000 and 2015, new HIV infections have fallen by 35%, AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 24% with some 7.8 million lives saved as a result of international efforts that led the global achievement of the HIV targets of the Millennium Development Goals.
  • Expanding ART to all people living with HIV and expanding prevention choices can help avert 21 million AIDS-related deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030.


World Health Organisation. n.d. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 September 2020].

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions that you need to know.

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After getting infected with HIV, most patients only experience moderate flu-like symptoms. Typically, the illness is sudden in onset and is characterised by fever, swelling of the lymph glands, a measles-like rash all over the body and ulcers in the mouth and sometimes on the genitalia.

What are the 4 stages of HIV?
  • Stage 1: Infection – Exposure to infected bodily fluids.
  • Stage 2: Asymptomatic – HIV quickly spreads and the patient becomes seropositive for HIV antibodies.
  • Stage 3: Symptomatic – The immune system is now engaged in a constant battle with the rapidly replicating virus.
  • Stage 4: AIDS – At this stage, the patient’s CD4+ count is 200 cells per mm3 or less.
How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?

No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial infection and a detectable viral load is called the window period. It can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to after exposure detect whether you are HIV-positive or not, depending on which testing method is used.

How long does it take to show symptoms of HIV?

Following initial infection, there is a period of intense, unchecked viral replication that occurs. It usually takes two to four weeks after infection and can last about one to two weeks, after which there tends to be a slight recovery, and the infected individual is considered to be seropositive for HIV antibodies.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the exchange of body fluids. The main method of transmission in South Africa is through unprotected sexual activity.

Does HIV test affect life insurance?

Being HIV-positive can affect standard life insurance policies, particularly if your status changes from HIV-negative to HIV-positive within a particular age range. That’s why AllLife covers all lives. Your HIV status doesn’t prevent you from getting cover with us.

Can HIV-positive women have children?

Yes, HIV-positive women can enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy HIV-negative babies. Through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme has been highly effective in reducing transmission risk to under 1%.

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