Though HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, there is a difference between being infected with HIV and having AIDS. A person can have HIV without having AIDS, but cannot have AIDS without HIV. There are five stages of HIV infection, with the last being AIDS.
The first stage of HIV infection is also called the “window period.” This is a period when the infected person may not be ill at all and may not test positive, but they will have a high viral load and be very infectious.
Seroconversion is the second stage of HIV infection and is another period in which an infected person is highly infectious. It is during seroconversion that the body develops antibodies to HIV that can be detected on tests. Various symptoms of infection may appear as well, including fever, rash, fatigue and neurologic symptoms.
The asymptomatic period is the stage of HIV infection in which a person may not show any symptoms nor have a major increase in viral load. This period may last up to ten years or longer, especially with medical treatment. HIV-positive patients in the asymptomatic period are still not considered to have AIDS.
Once the asymptomatic period ends, an HIV-positive individual will pass through early-stage and mid-stage symptomatic periods. Early-stage symptoms will include rashes, fatigue, weight loss, and other relatively common symptoms of disease. As the infection compromises more of the immune system, mid-stage symptoms such as significant weight loss, persistent cold sores, oral thrush and diarrhea will become much more common.
AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection and is characterized by a CD4 or t-cell count of less than 200 and/or certain opportunistic infections. AIDS is considered to be a separate condition from HIV infection because it requires such specific criteria before it will be diagnosed.
Difference Between HIV and AIDS
HIV is a virus that replicates inside of certain immune cells. AIDS is a syndrome made up of several medical problems, including a low CD4 count and the presence of one or more opportunistic infections. One does not “catch” AIDS, they develop AIDS as a worsening of their HIV infection.