The 5 differences between AIDS and being HIV positive - medical - 2023



The HIV / AIDS pandemic is the fifth most devastating in history. Being transmitted mainly by sexual or parenteral route (sharing syringes with infected blood), the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, leaving Africa in the 80s, has caused the death of 35 million people.

And although the fear of this virus, at least in developed countries, has decreased, we must not forget that AIDS still has no cure and that our only protection is prevention, through the use of condoms during intercourse. sexual.

Even so, the stigma surrounding this disease means that there are still many widespread doubts about it. And one of the most common is, surely, wondering if AIDS and being HIV positive are the same. And no. It is not at all.

Therefore, in today's article, we will answer this question very clearly and concisely. As we will see, HIV and AIDS are not exactly synonymous, so being HIV positive is not the same as having AIDS. Let us begin.

  • We recommend you read: "The 10 most devastating pandemics in the history of mankind"

What is AIDS? What is being HIV positive?

Before discussing the concrete differences between these two related (but distinct) terms, it is very important to define them individually. And this is what we will do next. As you will see, seeing what each of them consists of, you can already see where the shots are going. Let's go there.

AIDS: what is it?

AIDS is a disease whose initials correspond to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a sexually or parenterally transmitted disease (from sharing syringes with infected blood) caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, better known simply as HIV.

HIV is transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person (the greatest risk is with anal sex, whose risk of infection is 1-2%), by sharing syringes with contaminated blood (the risk is 0.007%), from mother to baby during pregnancy or by blood transfusions, although health controls have made this last route of infection anecdotal.

Either way, this virus requires direct contact with the blood of an infected person. And once in ours, if the acquired viral load is sufficient, it will remain in our body. But will it make us sick? Do not. It takes more than 10 years for the disease to appear after HIV infection.

Only when this virus begins to irreversibly damage immune cells do we speak of AIDS. This disease, then, arises when the HIV virus, due to its effects, has made us not have enough defenses to guarantee our protection against pathogens.

If the person has not detected HIV infection in time and has allowed enough time to develop AIDS, there is nothing to do. AIDS is a chronic deadly disease. Thanks to having antiretrovirals, we can stop the spread of the virus to prevent it from causing AIDS, which is why few people end up suffering from the disease.

Be that as it may, the AIDS disease makes us much more exposed to threats from the environment, which is why constant infections and the development of cancers (because our immune system cannot attack cancer cells either) is frequent.

AIDS has serious symptoms consisting of fever, sweating, enormous weight loss, lumps and rashes on the skin, immense weakness and fatigue, chronic diarrhea ... But worst of all is that the person ends up dying not from AIDS itself, but from secondary infections. In fact, having no defenses and already in advanced stages, a simple cold can kill the person.

In summary, AIDS is an incurable chronic fatal disease that arises after about 10 years of being infected by the HIV virus, which, after having been without symptoms, begins to damage immune cells, causing an immunosuppression that marks the onset of AIDS and that, due to secondary complications, causes the death of the person.

  • To know more: "AIDS: causes, symptoms and treatment"

Being HIV positive: what is it?

If we want to be precise, the term “seropositive”, in the clinical field, is used to refer to a person who has antibodies against a specific pathogen. In this sense, it is not exclusive to HIV / AIDS nor does it mean that the person has an infection at the moment, since they may have the antibodies but have defeated the infection.

Anyway, in the context of today's article, being seropositive is the term that refers to a person who has antibodies against the HIV virus. In other words, an HIV-positive person is one who, in his body, has the HIV virus, although it may be in a latent state, that is, without causing AIDS yet.

Therefore, the diagnosis of HIV infection is possible because, despite the fact that the virus is "hidden" within the immune cells, the person has produced antibodies against it (hence we speak of seropositive), which warns of that, in effect, by not stopping the course of the infection, you can develop the disease AIDS.

In an HIV positive person, the HIV virus is in the body, but in a latent form, so we do not yet suffer from the AIDS disease itself. (Note: a person with AIDS is also HIV positive). And it is that although there may be symptoms after a month of being infected because the body reacts to the presence of the virus, these clinical signs can easily be confused with those of a simple flu although with a somewhat longer duration.

But at that point, the virus is already in your body, staying in "sleep mode" and entering an asymptomatic phase that can last for more than 10 years. During all this time, the person is HIV positive. And there is time to stop the spread of the infection by administering antiretrovirals, drugs that, although they do not kill the virus (no drug can do so), contain its replication, causing the infection to stop in this asymptomatic phase.

Therefore, even though an HIV-positive person will remain HIV-positive for the rest of his life (HIV will always be in the blood and can be passed on to other people), these medications allow you to never develop AIDS and that he can live a practically normal life, beyond the fact of requiring medication for life.

In short, being seropositive means that we are infected with HIV, although this virus has not yet caused the development of the AIDS disease. There are antibodies against the virus but there is still no clear clinical manifestation nor is fatal immunosuppression, so in this latent stage, the administration of antiretrovirals can slow the spread of the virus and, therefore, prevent the person from suffering AIDS.

  • To learn more: "The 21 most common myths and hoaxes about AIDS and HIV"

How is AIDS different from being HIV positive?

After having defined them individually, surely things have been very clear. Even so, so that you have the information more concise, we have prepared a selection of the main aspects that differentiate both terms.

1. Not all people with HIV have AIDS; but all people with AIDS are HIV positive

The key and the most important difference. As we have seen, an HIV-positive person is one who suffers from HIV infection. But this does not mean that you have AIDS. In fact, if you are HIV-positive but start antiretroviral treatment on time, you will never suffer from AIDS.

In this sense, both terms refer to the presence of the HIV virus in the body. You can be HIV positive (have antibodies to HIV) and not have the disease AIDS. But You cannot have AIDS without being HIV positive, that is, without having HIV inside you.

2. AIDS is a disease; be HIV positive, no

A very important clarification. And it is that an HIV-positive person is not sick. As we have seen, being HIV positive implies that the HIV virus is in a latent state, without causing symptoms (beyond flu-like ones at first). Therefore, an HIV-positive person does not suffer from any serious complications.

These only appear when, after 10 years of asymptomatic state, the virus begins to aggressively attack immune cells. Only when the infection causes this immunosuppression do we speak of AIDS and, therefore, of a disease.

3. The symptoms of AIDS are much more serious

This idea is reflected in a very clear way: a person with AIDS dies of AIDS; an HIV-positive person does not die from being HIV-positive. HIV is only serious when it triggers immunosuppression and thus causes the disease AIDS. As long as it is dormant, it does not show signs of its presence.

As we have seen, an HIV-positive person who does not yet have the disease may suffer, the first month after exposure to the virus, a somewhat longer clinical picture similar to a flu, but with mild symptoms that are reduced to fever, headache and muscle discomfort. After this, the person can go more than 10 years without suffering any health problems related to the presence of HIV in their body.

However, if its expansion is not stopped, AIDS appears. And by that time, the symptoms are already serious: constant fever, night sweats, chronic diarrhea, enormous weight loss, enormous weakness, lumps and rashes on the skin… Not to mention that the person is at very high risk of dying from secondary infections or diseases, being tuberculosis, meningitis, neurological disorders, parasitic infections, pneumonia, kidney diseases and Kaposi's sarcoma the most frequent.

4. When you are HIV positive, treatment is possible; when there is AIDS, no

When a person is HIV positive, there is time to antiretroviral treatment is effective and prevents the onset of the AIDS disease. But if you already have the disease, there is no possible treatment. As we have said, AIDS is a chronic fatal disease. Being seropositive is chronic, but it is not fatal and, in addition, the virus can be kept in a latent state thanks to these drugs that, although they do not kill it, inhibit its replication.

5. An HIV-positive person has antibodies; a person with AIDS, an immunosuppression

As we have commented, a person is considered seropositive when they have antibodies against HIV, which denotes an infection by this virus that will be chronic but can be contained thanks to antiretrovirals. On the other hand, a person with AIDS, in addition to obviously having antibodies (is still seropositive), suffers from severe immunosuppression, because the virus has begun to kill immune cells, leaving the person totally "naked" to the attack of pathogens and the development of malignant tumors.

HIV will always be in the body. If its expansion is slowed, we will continue to be HIV-positive, but we will prevent the emergence of AIDS.